It seems to come earlier every term. The Facebook pages with their invitations to like. The messages hoping that you’re well. The slate names which sound as if they’ve been plucked from a spider diagram on the first episode of The Apprentice. The promises to create a more inclusive, accessible, friendly, transparent, unified Union: a Union which doesn’t have racism scandals on a termly basis; a Union which doesn’t act as an incessant avenue to 10 Downing Street; a Union which works for everyone.
It often feels like the failures of the Oxford Union are a universally agreed truth. Every term, people pledge to change the Union for the better, using their frantic buzzwords, meticulous Google Docs, and escapades in the Bridge smoking area to drum up support for whomever they’re backing to climb to the top of the greasy pole. Maybe it’d be fine if people actually did enact change once they ascended to their cushy position. But no. The Oxford Union President last Michaelmas promised “zero tolerance for bullying” in his manifesto. He brought a disciplinary complaint against a blind man dragged from a debate by his ankles. Hilary Term 2019’s President claimed that he had “the passion to open up the Union”. He certainly did open up the Union: to Mahathir Mohamad, a man who had said he was “glad to be labelled antisemitic”. Michaelmas Term 2018’s President committed to being an innovator; his innovations included the invitation of Steve Bannon, who had espoused the wearing of claims of racism “as a badge of honour”.
It often feels like the failures of the Oxford Union are a universally agreed truth.
Perhaps it’s not the hacks’ fault. Maybe internal Union bureaucracy or other factors outside of their control mean that try as they might, they just can’t stop the repeated racism rows. But the grim cycle continues. Eager freshers, buoyed on by the power and prestige of the institution, continue to shell out over £250 in the hope of seeing some of the world’s movers and shakers in the flesh (or as has been the case for most of this year, watch them over Zoom). For as long as this continues, the cycle will perpetuate itself. Ambitious freshers start off by asking a few friends to register to vote in anticipation of their bid for a place on secretary’s committee, and the next thing they know, there’s a picture of their arms slightly awkwardly around the shoulders of three other future Tory MPs on the Facebook page header for #REFORM.
So how should we stop this cycle? How can we stop the Union from constantly inviting racist speakers, hacking the living daylights out of anyone they’ve ever bumped into, and tarnishing the reputation of the University as a whole in the process? It’s not going to happen through electing new leaders; years of unjustified optimism have shown otherwise. If change won’t come from within, we have no choice. Abolish the Oxford Union, for the good of us all.