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.

Getty
Show Hide image

The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.