Oxford University Labour Club

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Oxford University Labour Club
OULC Logo - White on red.jpg
Founded 1919
Website http://oulc.org/

The executive, Summer & Michaelmas Term 2015

Co-Chair David Klemperer,
St John's
Co-Chair Kate Welsh,
Co-Chair Elect Alex Chalmers,
Co-Chair Elect Noni Csogor,
Corpus Christi
Women's Officer Krish Rittoo,
St Anne's
Women's Officer Elect Eleanor Ormsby,
Treasurer Harry Williams,
Secretary David Parton,
St Hilda's
Publicity Officer Luke Charters-Reid,
Membership Officer Ben Scantlebury,
Christ Church
Campaigns Officer Malcolm Glennie,
St Anne's
Social Secretary Michael Muir,
St John's

Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) was founded in 1919[1] to promote democratic socialism and is today the home of the Labour Party and the left at Oxford University. OULC is the largest university Labour club in the country and has a particular reputation as an active campaigning force.

The club caters for any students who are interested in the ideals of the labour movement whether members of the Labour Party or entirely new to politics. Stewart Wood, special adviser to consecutive Labour Party leaders Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, said that 'OULC is held up as an exemplar of what needs to be done.' During his visit to Oxford in July 2009 the Prime Minister Gordon Brown was reported as having praised OULC’s 'brilliant contribution to progressive politics in the University, the city and the country.'[2] The club was instrumental in returning Andrew Smith to Parliament for Oxford East at the 2010 General Election with a 4.1% swing to Labour, the largest in England outside London.

Throughout the year it hosts a range of speaker, social, discussion, and campaigning events, as well as producing a termly magazine called Look Left. Signature events include the annual Barbara Castle Memorial Lecture and John Smith Memorial Dinner.


David Lewis and the early 1930s[edit]

When David Lewis came to Oxford, the Labour Club was a tame organization adhering to Christian activism, or the not-quite-so-scrappy-socialist theories of people such as R. H. Tawney and his book The Acquisitive Society. David's modified Jewish Labour Bundist interpretation of Marxism, that Cameron Smith labels "Parliamentary Marxism," ignited the renewed interest in the club after the disappointment with Ramsay MacDonald's second Labour government.[3]

The Oxford newspaper The Isis noted Lewis' leadership ability at this early stage in his career in their February 7, 1934 issue: "The energy of these University Socialists is almost unbelievable. If the Socialist movement as a whole is anything like as active as they are, then a socialist victory at the next election is inevitable."[4]

In February 1934, British fascist William Joyce, (Lord Haw Haw), visited Oxford. Lewis and future Ontario Co-operative Commonwealth Federation leader Ted Jolliffe, organised a noisy protest against the fascist, by simply planting Labour Club members in the dance hall that Joyce was speaking in, and causing a commotion, as groups of two and three left making much noise on the creaking wooden floors. The speech was foiled. Afterwards, the Blackshirts contingent had a street battle in Oxford with members of the Labour Club and the townsfolk.[5]

Lewis prevented the communists from really making inroads at Oxford during his time there. He increased the Labour Club's membership by three quarters, from 484 members in December 1932 to over 850 members by the time he left, while the October club never rose above 300 members.[6] Ted Jolliffe stated "there was a difference between his speeches at the [Oxford] Union and his speeches at the Labour Club. His speeches at th Union had more humour in them; the atmosphere was entirely different. But his speeches at the Labour Club were deadly serious.... His influence at the Labour Club, more than anyone else's, I think, explains the failure of the Communists to make headway there."[7] In 1935, the Soviet controlled Comintern's Seventh Congress, called for a united left response to fascism, called the popular front. The communist October Club used this call, for a popular front, as a pretext to have a union between themselves and the Labour Club.[6] Under Lewis' leadership, the club was able to easily defeat a motion by the October Club, as only 20 OULC members voted for the union.[8]

When Lewis returned to Canada in the summer of 1935, there really wasn't anyone to replace him, to keep the communists at bay[9] as The Isis noted: "The Labour may have rejected fusion [with the October Club] but the matter is not yet settled. An interesting thing is the dearth of what are technically known as 'promising people' in the ranks of the Labour Club. For years the Labour Club has been turning out a Geoffrey Wilson, a Frank Hardie, a John Cripps, a David Lewis, each year: but this [coming] year there seems to be no figures as outstanding as these."[10]

Communist takeover[edit]

Since there wasn't a strong Labour leader to take over from Lewis after he graduated and left in the summer of 1935, the Labour Club amended its constitution to remove impediments to fusion with the communist October Club in December 1935.[9] Shortly thereafter the two clubs joined together forming a "popular front".[11] The club's membership peaked before the war at between 1000 and 1200 members depending on whose numbers were used, which was approximately a fifth of all of Oxford's 5023 students.[12] Of the club's total membership, the Communists made up approximately less than 200 members.[12]

Constitution and organisation[edit]

OULC is run by an elected executive committee. OULC also holds General Meetings and Termly General Meetings at which its members can pass policy in the form of motions (such as submissions to the Labour Party's Policy Review), amend the constitution, hear reports from the executive and elect (at the Termly General Meeting) the new executive.


OULC has hosted a range of speakers from the Labour movement, including a number of high profile politicians. In Trinity term 2009, OULC hosted the then current Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, David Miliband. He commented "I recently met with the OULC members and was impressed. [They] can help Labour be at the cutting edge."

OULC holds regular informal meetings to discuss policy. This provides its members with an opportunity to engage in serious political debate. An October 2008 review of party political events by the Cherwell commented that OULC is 'an active political party as opposed to a social gathering. Their meetings are informal, and last year they were visited by a number of prominent left wing politicians.' [13]

OULC also runs campaigns. The club plays a role in the efforts to keep Oxford East Labour and contributed significantly to the election effort in July 2009 where Labour gained four seats on the county council, the most successful Labour result in the county. In its report on the election victory, the Cherwell cited the club's then co-chair, Jacob Turner, as saying that he felt the result was a consequence of "a very great effort from the local party including Labour Club members. We've been going out, meeting people, and asking them not to vote for us, but just how our councillors can help them. We've built up a relationship with residents which is ultimately expressed in voting."[14] In the run up to the 2010 General Election the club regularly turned out 20 campaigners every Sunday. This made a huge contribution to Oxford East's position of having the highest voter contact rate of anywhere in the country (more than Wales, Scotland and the North-East put together). In 2012, the club was instrumental in Labour winning its first Student Ward in the city in over two decades. When possible the club sends members to other towns to campaign, including Reading, Slough, Southampton and even Edinburgh.

OULC holds a number of social events including a fresher's dinner in Michaelmas Term and a barbecue or picnic in Trinity term. OULC also hosts an annual dinner, the John Smith Memorial Dinner, in the fifth week of Hilary term. The dinner commemorates the contribution and life of John Smith, the former Labour party leader, who died suddenly in 1994. Recent speakers at this event have included Neil Kinnock and Margaret Beckett.

Involvement in Labour politics[edit]

Labour Students[edit]

OULC is affiliated with Labour Students, and former OULC members have held a number of positions there. In February 2011, OULC disaffliated from Labour Students for a one-year period as a protest over the way the organisation was run. In February 2012, OULC voted by 20 to 4 to rejoin Labour Students citing the progress made by the leadership of the organisation in improving accountability and democracy.


OULC also has links with other socialist organisations, trade unions, and Labour Party groups, including the Oxford District, Reading and Slough Labour Parties.

Broader political involvement[edit]

Oxford University Student Union[edit]

Since the establishment of the Oxford University Student Union in the early 1970s, OULC has maintained a presence. There have been many Labour presidents, starting with John Grogan in the early 1980s, and OULC candidates have in recent years been successful in the 1997 (Katherine Rainwood; who then resigned after being caught cheating in her final exams[citation needed]), 1998 (Anneliese Dodds), 1999 (Kirsty McNeill), 2004 (Emma Norris), 2005 (Alan Strickland) and 2006 (Martin McCluskey) elections. Whilst the Club no longer runs official candidates, OUSU's executive committee and delegate body has also had a Labour presence.

National Union of Students[edit]

Stephen Twigg was National President of the National Union of Students and an OULC member in the early 1990s.

Local government[edit]

Six current or former members of OULC currently sit on Oxford City Council, and one is a County Councillor in Oxfordshire.


At the 2005 General Election, five recent former OULC members stood for election as Labour candidates.

In parliament former OULC members include John Grogan, Ed Balls (although also a member of the Oxford University Conservative Association whilst at Oxford), Ed and David Miliband, and in the European Parliament, Richard Corbett and Mary Honeyball.

Notable former members of the executive committee[edit]

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Smith, p. 195
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Smith, p.187
  4. ^ The Isis, Feb. 7, 1934, p. 9
  5. ^ Smith, pp. 194–195
  6. ^ a b Smith, p.196
  7. ^ Smith, p.196. Ted Jolliffe in an interview with the author.
  8. ^ The Isis, May 29, 1935, p. 4
  9. ^ a b Smith, p. 197
  10. ^ The Isis, June 5, 1935, p. 13
  11. ^ Smith, p.197
  12. ^ a b Smith, p.554
  13. ^ [2]
  14. ^ [3]

External links[edit]