I have often heard it suggested that the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) has no more important mission than the amusement of its members on a Sunday evening. Whilst Port and Policy is the most visible of our Is our Tory assocation an inclusive society? activities each term, it is by no means our most important.
Our Association is the largest and most exuberant student campaigning force for the Conservative Party in the UK, frequently travelling to marginal constituencies across the country. We spread Conservatism beyond the university, publishing a termly magazine of our collective musings on topical issues and arranging debates. Each term we promote conservative speakers, giving undergraduates the opportunity to engage in a wider spectrum of opinion. Most importantly, we ensure that a proportion of our termly profits are donated to worthwhile charities, and we expect all officeholders to undertake meaningful voluntary work each term within the local community. Without our Association the University would be intellectually narrower, and the local community arguably worse off.
Last week, OUCA attempted to ban Bullingdon Club members from taking office. This ruling would have had only a very limited practical effect, not least because the modern Bullingdon has no apparent interest in the Association. I opposed the ban, and I certainly opposed the methods by which it was initially passed: at the third time of asking, with no notice and by members with little interest in the Association. Yet the current president Ben Etty’s efforts in reforming OUCA have been commendable. It is not unreasonable for Ben to worry about being the “public face” of OUCA; having done the job myself, I know how easy it is for presidents to attract blame for events that they have no control over.
I therefore make this appeal to members of OUCA, who may be wondering whether an anonymous quotation to a paper might make more difference than a contribution in Council: if you have concerns about the direction of the Association, then attend Council to have your say. Play the ball, not the man; only then might the good work we do be better recognised.
OUCA’s U-turn on the Bullingdon ban is hardly surprising. The club is a vile institution which holds little in terms of values. While I have no doubt that the president was sincere in his desire to create ‘a more inclusive association’ through the attempted implementation of a ban, the party members failure to accept what was at best only a tokenistic gesture demonstrates the real principles of the group.
The Association is of course tied to the Conservative Party at large, and there is a clear overlap between OUCA and the club. Even if the policy had been permanent, it would have done little to obscure the fact that many students are made to feel unwelcome, not by a small band of buffoons, but by the governing party’s policies which are just as alienating for most people.
How can the Conservatives call themselves ‘inclusive’ when policies like Prevent compel institutions, including our own, to single out and stigmatise Muslims simply for being Muslim? The same could be said about social policies which harm the most vulnerable, or immigration policies which both target those who have just migrated to this country and victimize those who came to the UK legally many decades ago.
There are plenty of young Conservatives who passionately believe their party is the best because they leave most people better off when in government. Whilst a fair opinion, it doesn’t escape the reality that both the culture and policies of the modern Conservative Party simply don’t match their rhetoric of openness. Of course, part of Port and Policy’s appeal is a semi-ironic devotion to tradition and anachronism. The name ‘Port and Policy’ itself implies that this is a meeting for a certain kind of person from a certain kind of background, but it is ultimately a student run society which (rightly) doesn’t take itself entirely seriously.
The anachronisms of the Conservative Party are more of a concern. Theresa May can talk the talk of ‘creating a country that works for everyone’, but until the Conservatives dance the dance of genuine cultural change, rebranding exercises will leave most students unpersuaded.