Tory boys in trouble

Oxford University cuts its links with young Conservatives

The Daily Mail reports:

Oxford University has banned its students' Conservative Association from using its name after a race row.

The university has severed all links with the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) and ordered it to change its name.

OUCA, which boasts Margaret Thatcher as its patron and William Hague as Honorary President, was embroiled in a scandal in June when student politicians were urged to compete to see who could tell the most offensive racist joke.

Nick Gallagher, the group's publications officer, was asked to repeat "the most inappropriate joke you have ever told" as part of a drunken hustings for the next president of the body.

He said: "What do you say when you see a television moving around in the dark? Drop it, n****r, or I'll shoot you!"

Three cheers for Oxford University! It's about time the powers that be took some sort of action against the loons, wackos and wingnuts of OUCA. I witnessed their mad antics as a student at Oxford in the late 1990s -- I vividly remember a Tory boy named John Storey who, in the words of the Oxford Student newspaper, once disrupted a student union meeting with "Nazi-style salutes, cries of 'Viva Pinochet' and alleged drunken behaviour". (If you want to get a taste of the right-wingery and antisocial behaviour of OUCA and its members over the years, check out the detailed Wikipedia entry here.)

The Mail also reports:

The Conservatives said OUCA was not part of the party, although many association members were also members of the party.

A spokesman said: "People who behave in this disgusting and reprehensible way have no place in the Conservative Party."

This is entirely predictable -- and wholly inaccurate. Despite repeated denials and evasions by Central Office, the fact is that the nutjobs of OUCA have always found a home in the official Conservative Party. As the blogger Paul Sagar noted in June:

. . . this official excuse of non-affiliation is hard to square with the Conservative Party's friendly relations with OUCA. In 2008 five members of the shadow cabinet -- including David Cameron and George Osborne -- spoke at OUCA meetings. This year alone, John Redwood, Michael Gove, Viscount Monckton, newly re-elected Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, Edward Leigh (chair of the über-right-wing Cornerstone group) and former Tory leader Michael Howard have all spoken at OUCA.

But then, it's hardly surprising that OUCA and the Conservative Party are on such friendly terms. OUCA's alumni include Margaret Thatcher, William Hague, Jonathan Aitken, Lord Rees-Mogg and Daniel Hannan.

OUCA is a breeding ground for future Tory stars. It is not a fringe organisation trying to jump on the Establishment bandwagon, it's the youth wing of the national party. That's why so many top Tory politicians were members, and why so many still attend OUCA events. Yet time and again OUCA members are exposed as racists.

Over to you, Tory party spokesman . . .

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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John Major's double warning for Theresa May

The former Tory Prime Minister broke his silence with a very loud rebuke. 

A month after the Prime Minister stood in Chatham House to set out plans for free trading, independent Britain, her predecessor John Major took the floor to puncture what he called "cheap rhetoric".

Standing to attention like a weather forecaster, the former Tory Prime Minister warned of political gales ahead that could break up the union, rattle Brexit negotiations and rot the bonds of trust between politicians and the public even further.

Major said that as he had been on the losing side of the referendum, he had kept silent since June:

“This evening I don't wish to argue that the European Union is perfect, plainly it isn't. Nor do I deny the economy has been more tranquil than expected since the decision to leave was taken. 

“But I do observe that we haven't yet left the European Union. And I watch with growing concern  that the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic.”

A seasoned EU negotiator himself, he warned that achieving a trade deal within two years after triggering Article 50 was highly unlikely. Meanwhile, in foreign policy, a UK that abandoned the EU would have to become more dependent on an unpalatable Trumpian United States.

Like Tony Blair, another previous Prime Minister turned Brexit commentator, Major reminded the current occupant of No.10 that 48 per cent of the country voted Remain, and that opinion might “evolve” as the reality of Brexit became clear.

Unlike Blair, he did not call for a second referendum, stressing instead the role of Parliament. But neither did he rule it out.

That was the first warning. 

But it may be Major's second warning that turns out to be the most prescient. Major praised Theresa May's social policy, which he likened to his dream of a “classless society”. He focused his ire instead on those Brexiteers whose promises “are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery”. 

The Prime Minister understood this, he claimed, but at some point in the Brexit negotiations she will have to confront those who wish for total disengagement from Europe.

“Although today they be allies of the Prime Minister, the risk is tomorrow they may not,” he warned.

For these Brexiteers, the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations did not matter, he suggested, because they were already ideologically committed to an uncompromising version of free trade:

“Some of the most committed Brexit supporters wish to have a clean break and trade only under World Trade Organisation rules. This would include tariffs on goods with nothing to help services. This would not be a panacea for the UK  - it would be the worst possible outcome. 

“But to those who wish to see us go back to a deregulated low cost enterprise economy, it is an attractive option, and wholly consistent with their philosophy.”

There was, he argued, a choice to be made about the foundations of the economic model: “We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. 

“Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support.”

Major's view of Brexit seems to be a slow-motion car crash, but one where zealous free marketeers like Daniel Hannan are screaming “faster, faster”, on speaker phone. At the end of the day, it is the mainstream Tory party that will bear the brunt of the collision. 

Asked at the end of his speech whether he, like Margaret Thatcher during his premiership, was being a backseat driver, he cracked a smile. 

“I would have been very happy for Margaret to make one speech every eight months,” he said. As for today? No doubt Theresa May will be pleased to hear he is planning another speech on Scotland soon. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.