Oxford University Conservative Association
|Former Patron||Baroness Thatcher (deceased), Somerville College|
|Honorary President||William Hague MP, Magdalen College|
|President||Maryam Ahmed, Wolfson College|
The Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) is a student political organisation founded in 1924, whose members are drawn from the University of Oxford. Since October 2009, OUCA has been affiliated to Conservative Future, the Conservative Party youth wing. Until her death on 8 April 2013, the Patron of the association was Margaret Thatcher. The Honorary President is William Hague.
OUCA alumni include many prominent Conservative Party figures, including former Prime Ministers and Cabinet Ministers. Among them are William Hague, Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Grieve. Past presidents of OUCA include Margaret Thatcher, Edward Heath, Jonathan Aitken, William Rees-Mogg, Daniel Hannan and Nick Robinson. Former OUCA committee members or officers include Theresa May, Sir George Young, Ann Widdecombe, Jacob Rees-Mogg and the Earl of Dartmouth. Labour ministers Ed Balls and Chris Bryant are also OUCA alumni.
OUCA is run by its officers and committee, who are elected each term. OUCA's returning officer is responsible for running the elections and for administering association's internal disciplinary procedures. The President may appoint non-executive officers, such as a press officer.
OUCA events and activities vary considerably, depending on the president and committee, but all activities follow four main strands; Port and Policy; speaker meetings; campaigning; and social events.
Port and Policy
OUCA's most popular regular event is Port and Policy, in which political discussion is helped along by fortified wine. Between Trinity Term 1994 and Michaelmas 2012, Port and Policy was held eight times a term on Sunday evenings in the Oxford Union. In Michaelmas 2012 the Oxford Union did not renew the contract, and OUCA now uses other Oxford venues. Although the format is decided by the president and the political officer, two pre-announced motions are usually debated, followed by an emergency motion. The debate is held in a relaxed environment, accompanied by port. In May 2007, Port and Policy featured in the Channel 4 documentary Make Me a Tory. Port and Policy has been sponsored by The Spectator, who provided numerous complimentary copies of their publication, and Dow's Port, who provided discounted port. The growth in attendance at Port and Policy was featured in the Financial Times as evidence of growing popularity for the Conservatives among students.
The president of the association is responsible for organising the term's events and inviting guest speakers. Recent speakers include Margaret Thatcher (November 2002), John Major (April 2010), David Cameron (May 2008), Nigel Lawson (November 2011), Michael Howard (February 2007 and June 2008), Liam Fox (October 2011), Michael Ancram, Edward Leigh, George Osborne, Alan Duncan, John Redwood, Ann Widdecombe, David Davis, the Earl of Onslow, Iain Duncan Smith, David Willetts, Oliver Letwin, Lord Patten, Brian Mawhinney (October 2012), Daniel Hannan (October 2012), Jeremy Hunt (October 2012), and Andrew Lansley (November 2012).
OUCA often campaigns in local and general elections in other constituencies. During the 2010 British General Election, OUCA campaigned in Oxford West and Abingdon, where the Conservative candidate, Nicola Blackwood, overturned the Liberal Democrat MP, Evan Harris, by a small majority. OUCA now carries out various campaign duties for Blackwood. OUCA campaigned in London in support of Boris Johnson for the 2012 London mayoral election.
Although social arrangements are left to the discretion of the president and the social secretary, they usually include a party, a garden party in Trinity term, and trips to London to visit Parliament, the theatre or gentlemen's clubs. In Trinity term there are occasional sporting fixtures against the Oxford Union and Cambridge University Conservative Association. From time to the time the association also hosts events with Conservative think tanks and pressure groups, recently including the Freedom Association, the Army Benevolent Fund and the Adam Smith Institute.
Relationship with the national Conservative Party
Until recently, OUCA was an independent organisation, and not part of the national Conservative Party, nor of its youth wing, Conservative Future. Relations between OUCA and the national party were weak. For example, OUCA (like Cambridge University Conservative Association, Durham University Conservative Association and University of York Conservative and Unionist Association ) was automatically treated as separate from Conservative Future when the latter was founded in 1998. After various unfavourable reports in the national press, Conservative Party Central Office was normally quick to distance itself from OUCA. On 6 October 2009, however, the association voted to become affiliated to the Conservative Party, and it is now an official representative branch of Conservative Future.
In March 2010, an OUCA event in support of Oxford West parliamentary candidate Nicola Blackwood was used to launch Conservative Future's national Time to Get Involved campaign.
OUCA members sometimes stand for election to Oxford City Council. The Council has traditionally been Labour-dominated, and the Conservatives have not held a seat on it since 2001. Alex Stafford (President, Michaelmas 2007) stood unsuccessfully for Holywell Ward in the 2008 Oxford City Council Election, achieving an 8.2% swing for the Conservatives. His brother Gregory, now a councillor in the London Borough of Ealing, stood for OUCA in the same ward in 2004.
Breakaway groups and re-mergers
Julian Critchley described the OUCA that he encountered on his arrival at Pembroke College in 1951. Despite its 2,000 members, he said, "it was dominated by a patrician clique who preserved their power by preventing the membership at large from electing officers of the Association. These were chosen by the Committee which, although directly elected, was easily open to manipulation." Critchley and Michael Heseltine, defeated in their bids for OUCA office, set up a rival Conservative society, the Blue Ribbon Club.
In 1965 a group of OUCA members formed the Oxford University Tory Reform Group, pre-dating the national Tory Reform Group organisation. The OUTRG acted as a "one nation conservative" pressure group in Oxford, although it had a substantially smaller membership than OUCA. Interest declined as the national party became more moderate, and the OUTRG voted to disband and merge with OUCA during Michaelmas term 2007.
In an email to OUTRG members, its president Luke Connoly reported that an extraordinary general meeting held at the Lamb and Flag public house at 3 pm on 18 November 2008 unanimously voted to dissolve the OUTRG as of midday Saturday 8th week (1 December 2007) and to merge with OUCA. He cited falling attendance and a belief that OUCA had "genuinely become more liberal", adding that the merger "will make debate between wings of the party much easier and more productive". Later in the year, Douglas Hurd, a patron of the national TRG, lamented the disbanding of the Oxford Branch, saying that it was "very important that the One Nation view is powerfully represented".
In the Media
The Channel 4 documentary Make Me a Tory, produced by Daniel Cormack, aired on 13 May 2007. It included footage from one of OUCA's Port and Policy meetings and an interview with Conservative party leader David Cameron.
In Trinity Term 2010, just over a week before the 2010 General Election, the Oxford Mail reported John Major's visit to the association. The Daily Mail newspaper subsequently reported the event and criticised the Oxford Student newspaper for its "anti-Tory" coverage.
Accusations of racism
In 2000 four OUCA members were expelled from a meeting for making "Nazi-style salutes". The New Statesman claimed that a member of the OUCA committee at the University's 2001 Fresher's Fair greeted new students by saying, "Welcome to OUCA – the biggest political group for young people since the Hitler Youth". Another member was dismissed from the Oxford University Student Union's executive for "marching up and down doing a Nazi salute". In 2007 a drunken OUCA member gave a Nazi salute at a meeting attended by a former Tory MP.
In 2004 an ex-treasurer of the association was found guilty of bringing OUCA into disrepute "after posting 'offensive' comments about India in a newsletter". At an OUCA hustings in 2009, two candidates made racist jokes, encouraged by others present. The incident led to national media coverage and an investigation by the University, which then refused to re-register the association, forcing it to drop University from its name and become OCA (Oxford Conservative Association). As a result of the incident, two members were expelled from the national Conservative party, and the Oxford Union banned OUCA from using its premises for hustings and in-camera events.
In 2011 the Oxford Student newspaper received leaked video footage of an OUCA member singing the first line of a song glorifying the Nazi Party in the Junior Common Room of Corpus Christi College after an OUCA meeting at the Oxford Union in 2010. This led to the resignation of some current and former members of the association. The university launched an investigation into the society as a result of the reports. The Dean of Corpus Christi subsequently banned all OUCA events at the college indefinitely.
On 25 February 2012 the Daily Telegraph reported that the association had had an unpaid debt of more than £1200 in relation to a charity event held "in support of the Army Benevolent Fund at the Cavalry and Guards Club on Pall Mall in June 2009", which had not been settled until the beginning of 2012. As a result of this and other administrative shortcomings, the university for a second time refused to re-register the association for a period of 12 months, during which time it was again known as OCA, regaining university affiliation at the start of Trinity term 2012.
For a complete list of presidents dating back to 1924, see Former presidents of Oxford University Conservative Association.
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