Politics and Oxford are closely assimilated. Of the total 57 prime ministers to date, 30 were educated here at Oxford, and the relevance of Oxford on the domestic and international political scene is unquestioned. Cherwell wanted to find out what the current students, who will decide tomorrow’s political future, believe. Are we, as Senator Sanders called our student body, “the most progressive generation yet”? Or is Oxford currently host to the next batch of Boris Johnsons and Liz Trusses?
Cherwell’s 2023 Politics Poll received nearly 500 responses from students university-wide, mostly from undergraduates. In general, they were dissatisfied with the current UK government with only 4 percent of students somewhat satisfied or extremely satisfied.
If a general election were to happen tomorrow, Labour would win strongly, with 61 per cent of students hoping to vote for that party. The Greens would be in second, just a percentage higher in popularity than the Conservatives, while 7.7 percent of students would support the Liberal Democrats. Smaller parties received less than three percent of the vote and 5 percent of students answered none and or that they would abstain.
At the college Level, University College is the most staunchly Labour with 100% of respondents supporting that party in an election, beating out famously-lefti colleges like Wadham.
Stereotypes held true on the other end of the spectrum. The top three Conservative colleges are Oriel, Christ Church and Regent’s Park.
Subject-wise, the top Labour degrees were History and Politics, Human Sciences and Law. Classics and PPE did not top the list of Tory degrees. Instead, Theology, Philosophy and Classical Archeology and Ancient History came out on top.
When asked to choose between Labour and Conservative, 83 per cent of respondents answered Labour, with only 17 per cent Conservative. On the whole, most students feel that Oxford’s student body is progressive, regardless of party affiliation. In terms of more precise political ideology, 50.8 percent answered Socialism, 23.8 percent Liberalism and 8 percent Conservativism. Despite academia’s far-left reputation, 1.8 percent of respondents answered Communism. When offered the choice between Capitalism and Socialism, most favoured the latter system.
A Labour supporting student said “capitalism has left millions of people in the UK alone to freeze and/or starve this winter while energy companies announce record profits.” One other said “nobody should be 20,000 times richer than someone else.” “Socialism is the next step in the development of human kind” claimed one respondent, “The late stage capitalism system is a failure that benefits only the few”. Arguments against socialism given in the 2023 Politics Poll pointed at historical failure of socialism, contrasted against the possible freedoms and wealth in capitalist societies.
The future politicians: they’re not just PPEists
Just under a quarter of Oxford students would enter politics in the future, while 77.9 percent had no intention. However, if the job of Prime Minister was offered to them 43.9 percent would take up the post. The majority of students would not like to be Prime Minister and around the same number are unhappy that so many Prime Ministers have been to Oxford University.
Unsurprisingly, the PPEists were the most eager politicians, but still less than half of those students admit to wanting a career in politics. Historians were next likely to aspire to politics, followed by Lawyers, then Classicists and Geographers.
23 per cent of Labour supporters want to enter politics, while 32.5 percent of their Conservative counterparts do.
One Labour student wrote that “it seems that those that most want to hold leadership positions are actually the least qualified to hold them (looking at the Union and the characters that it attracts).” Another student is disheartened at “the thought that all the Oxbridge educated politicians were just hacks ”.
One Conservative student said Oxford politics is “extremely toxic. JCR Committees and the Oxford Union should both be abolished.”
Freedom to preach
A large majority of Conservative students believe they cannot express their political views in Oxford for fear of potential ramifications. This is juxtaposed by 76 percent of Labour and Green voters who said they were able to express their views freely. Lib Dem voters were split 50/50.
One Conservative said “You are sometimes not allowed to express any view out of the consensus of the student body without unreasonable scrutiny or social loss. I might be allowed to say what I want, but it still comes with consequences.” One Reform voter in the 2023 Politics Poll echoed this sentiment: “It is true what they say… [Oxford] is very left wing dominated, especially by academics. Any slightly right wing comment and you’ve been branded as something you’re not.” Another ‘moderate left’ Labour supporter described the cancel culture as ‘worrying’.
Nevertheless, there are many political forums in Oxford. The Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) and Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) both hold debate and drinking events. OUCA has Port and Policy, and OULC has Beer and Bickering. Only a small fraction of respondents had been to either: 16.9 per cent for Port and Policy, and 22.7 per cent for Beer and Bickering. Those who attend attest to prejudice at times, including one student who “despite being a socialist, had very unpleasant experiences with those politically involved on the left” due to their attendance of Port and Policy.
The reputation of these groups is not good overall. One student said that “the only thing worse than the OUCA (private school Tories who are completely out of touch) are the private school commies who are completely out of touch.” Another claimed “student politics is mostly useless. The big names in OULC or OUCA won’t be the Oxbridge graduates who make big change in years to come.”
When asked about the political scene in Oxford one student said: “There’s the joke that everyone at Oxford wants to be prime minister. I mentioned this to some of my friends, one said “oh no, I only want to be a SPAD”, the other said, “well, I’d be happy with a cabinet position personally”. The thing is they weren’t even joking.”
Another student believes that there are students with the intelligence and empathy to solve political problems, however, “those people are not likely to be the people that go into politics. Unfortunately, politics tends to select ugly people that crave power and status.”
One disillusioned student also hated this trend and the “union to Westminster pipeline”, which creates politicians who “think politics is a game, and it’s like they’re still at Uni.”
Re-drawing party lines and re-writing political discourse
Students were asked if they feel represented in the political discourse of today. Most answered no. When broken down at a party level, Greens felt the most left- out, followed by Conservative students, then Labour supporters and Lib Dems.
Socialist and conservative students had many grievances. Green students told the 2023 Politics Poll that “the mainstream political discourse is between outright fascism on one side and a socially conservative economic liberalism on the other.” One student who chose Labour said: “Kier Starmer is a red Tory”, another feels that “champagne socialists have taken over.” Disillusioned Conservatives students complained that they didn’t feel represented in the House of Commons or Lords.
Many students complain of a lack of centrist options or nuance in contemporary politics. One noted that there is “no credible centre-centre-right option”. Another pointed out that their “views (perhaps because they are so divergent on various issues) are not well-represented by the political elite, even though [they] may mix with the future political elite.” One simply because “Nobody is nuanced.”
Political discourse and party power angered many. One student bemoaned a lack of “serious opposition to Brexit within political discourse”. Lib Dem students said the “Political discourse is too focused on the power of parties and not making meaningful changes.” One Reform UK student said that “there is no party that wants low government intervention anymore” another said “too often people are put into one group or another based on one viewpoint they have or even based on appearance.” One SNP voter worried that “in the day and age when MPs tell everyone 15-minute cities are an attempt to “take away personal freedom” I don’t know if we’ll ever approach reasonable and informed political discourse.”
Non-traditional parties do thrive at Oxford, with one Monster Raving Looney Party supporter expressing that the voices and issues they care about “are shut out by many other louder voices on much more menial topics.”
Students were asked, if applicable, whether they were proud to be British. A narrow majority of 54 percent said “No”, while 46 per cent said they were proud to be British. Nearly all Conservative voters were proud to be British, while the vast majority of Green voters were not.
Most of those who are not proud to be British are Green and Labour students. One Labour student said “I love my home, but when I think of Britain as an entity in both the past and present it’s hard to find much that’s worth being particularly proud of – even our “successes” are built on blood.” Some others said simply because “We left the EU”, “the police are corrupt” and that they were proud “sometimes when we play football but don’t like all the colonial stuff.” Numerous respondents referred to Britain as “Terf Island”.
Many Labour student opinions were related to the current government. A further student surmised: “The way the government has conducted itself in the last few years is disgraceful, and makes me ashamed to be associated with what they represent about Britain.” A second labour student was more explicit: “First world country that oppresses its poorest. Why would I be proud of this?”.
Those who answered in the affirmative did so for a variety of reasons. Conservative and Reform voters were almost wholly found in this category. Many said “we are the most important country in world history”, with “great culture”, a “glorious history” and “wonderful Tradition”. One called the UK the “Stronghold of Protestantism and the beauty of the Anglo-Celtic union.” Another said “luv me country, luv me beer, ‘ate the french. Simple as.”
One proud Liberal Democrat student said “while flawed in many ways, Britain has one of the most successfully multicultural societies in the world and, as a result, an amazingly diverse culture, especially in the cities.”
There were a good number of Labour voters who were proud of being British. One student answering the 2023 Politics Poll said that “humour and pubs are good”. “Our great universities (both of them)”. Others mentioned the UK’s “great queues,” “Monarchy,” “The North, “sport, history, culture, national values.” “Our shared knowledge of those random Christian songs we sang in primary school. Our inability to decide what a roll/bun/bread should be called.”
When it came to one of Britain’s most famous institutions, the monarchy, most students would abolish it. A strong minority however, believe it is important. This minority values its history and sees royal power as the essential referee in our political system.
This question had a strong partisan divide: 85 percent of Conservatives would keep the monarchy, while 56 per cent of Labour supporters would abolish it. Labour students in favour of abolition said: “There is no need for the people to support the socially useless feudal elite.” Another said “While not something I would push for at the expense of more practical concerns, the monarchy is obsolete and contributes to the UK’s archaic political culture.” One Lib Dem called it a “functionless institution.”
Some conservatives in the 2023 Politics Poll had a mixed opinion on the monarchy: “I don’t want to abolish it but I can understand it being gradually phased away over the next couple of generations of the family”. Many students also had weaker opinions on abolishing the power of the royal family, one writing “We should…but like eh. They’re kinda fun.”