Last Monday I was elected as the Labour Club’s new BME Officer. I was told that it was the first time in years (if ever) that the position had been contested and it was by far the best attended caucus anyone could remember. One of my predecessors told me about how he’d been voted in by a caucus of only three, including himself. But since the summer the Labour Party and affiliated student clubs have seen membership rocketing, radically defying European-wide trends of declining party membership. The Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) has been no exception.
New members have breathed fresh life into OULC. Membership is more diverse than ever. A once overwhelmingly white Club, at the BME caucus there were members from Asian, Afro-Caribbean, Arab and Jewish backgrounds. Many who have joined are new to Labour politics but share Labour values and were inspired by the principles and integrity of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign. Others, like myself, have long been active in our local Labour parties, campaigning in our communities but until recently alienated by student politics.
Too often politics in Oxford can feel cliquish and political clubs merely a platform for aspiring politicians looking for another item for their CV. When I arrived at Oxford I immediately headed for the Labour Club, expecting a political home, but was put off by an elitist culture that treated politics like sport. It felt like it wasn’t for me and looked nothing like my local Labour Party in multicultural, working class South London. But it’s a shame that this reputation prevails because since I’ve joined I’ve met great people, rooted in their communities, determined to work against injustice. They, like me, want to ensure that the Labour Club is the natural home of the left in Oxford.
It is vital at this critical time that OULC continues to revive its campaigning mission. The Tory ideology of today’s government is waging an unprecedented assault on all the institutions that were created to preserve our liberties and uphold human dignity. And as with every bully, those who are picked on are the most vulnerable. Whether it’s the removal of student grants, the marketization of education or authoritarian policies like Prevent, which attack the precious foundations of free speech, this government is hitting the most exposed hardest. We are citizens in a city and a county that is being attacked by government policies to such an extent that David Cameron’s own aunt has taken to the streets in protest. Faced with massive government cuts, the Tory-run County Council has planned to close all of Oxfordshire’s forty four children’s centres.
But where there are injustices, citizens and students of Oxford have always refused to remain silent and have mobilised. The Labour Club must take its place alongside and in support of other movements who share our values. If OULC is to become an authentic voice for students, and an effective tool for campaigning, we need to reach out to these movements and work with them, as we have begun to this term. I’ve been part of the OUSU Living Wage Campaign since coming here, and recently helped set up the Oxford Campaign for Unionisation which aims to support staff across colleges in joining trade unions and defending their rights at work. In my term ahead, I want to make sure OULC works with other great campaigns, such as Save Oxfordshire’s Children’s Centres and On Your Doorstep, a student campaign against homelessness, a problem set to get worse in the wake of a thirty eight per cent cut to the local council’s homelessness budget.
Rhodes Must Fall Oxford (RMFO) has provoked an overdue debate about the legacy of colonialism at the university and its impact on our environment, culture and degrees. Already workshops on diversity in the curriculum have been held by the Department of Politics and International Relations, a sign of progress being made. This term OULC voted to support RMFO and we will continue to work closely with liberation movements across the university.
Politics is not a game, and OULC is not a networking society. I joined Labour because I find it outrageous that 24 per cent of young people in my hometown grow up in poverty and I want to do something about it. We need to realise that a drinking society for students with political aspirations is no match for a group which is engaged in community change and campaigning. That’s why the new OULC committee is going to stand up for the type of politics that ordinary people like me, and so many others in Oxford, would rather be a part of.