On February 19th, several members of the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) were expelled from a debating event held by the Oxford University Liberal Democrats (OULD). During the event, Spirited Discussions, drunk members of OUCA created large amounts of noise and gave “offensive” speeches, The Oxford Blue has learned.
According to attendees of the event held at St Peter’s College, a number of intoxicated OUCA members came to Spirited Discussions following an OUCA crewdate. An OUCA member was particularly criticised for a speech which channelled and quoted from Enoch Powell’s famous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. The OUCA international officer, and a former political officer (PO), also caused disruption and gave controversial speeches in reference to the British Empire. The ex-PO later apologised for “trivialising (the British Empire’s) effects and crimes” and said he “deeply disapprove(d)” of Liu’s speech.
The member who quoted Enoch Powell was planning to run for a junior officer position in OUCA this term, but has now resigned his membership of OUCA following the allegations. OUCA President, Marcus Walford, told The Oxford Blue that: “I am not personally aware of any actions of either the ex-PO or the international officer which call for internal disciplinary proceedings, but were anything to come to light it would of course be handled with due seriousness.”
The alleged offender was also elected to the Oxford Union’s secretary’s committee in Michaelmas 2019. However, Sara Dube, President of the Union, commented to The Blue that the member is no longer on any Union committee.
It is alleged that the member directly quoted Enoch Powell’s famed ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, whilst the ex-PO and the international officer referenced the British Empire. A number of other OUCA members created a considerable amount of disruption, shouting phrases such as ‘sound’, ‘shame’, and ‘resign’ in response to speeches. Following this, the OULD president and the spirits officer asked those involved to leave the premises.
The Blue has learnt that many OUCA committee members found the events distasteful. One called the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech “gross”, adding that those involved had “disgraced” the Association.
Powell’s speech, given in 1968, was in response to the proposed Race Relations Bill, which would made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, or origin for public services. Powell argued that the Bill would discriminate against native, white Britons. Although the speech does not contain the phrase “rivers of blood,” it quotes Virgil’s Aeneid: “As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’.”
The ex-PO responded to The Blue‘s request for comment, saying: “I would like to express my deep regret for my actions on the evening in question. As is well known I attend many of the political society events and give bombastic non-serious speeches which are intended as humorous entertainment, as far as I am aware these are generally understood for the jokes they are. Unfortunately, on the night in question, I unforgivably strayed into rather bad taste in this regard.
“I do not support any of the policies I advocated in my speech, and that I neither deny nor, attempt to excuse, the damage caused by the British Empire.
“I apologise profusely and unreservedly to anyone who might have been offended by my speech.”
“I would also like to point out that I deeply disapprove of a speech made that evening by another member of OUCA concerning Enoch Powell’s infamous speech. I was informed by the spirits officer of OULD, that this speech had been the primary source of concern on the night and ultimately the reason that OUCA members were asked to leave.”
OUCA has often generated controversy in the past. Members have on multiple occasions been accused of giving Nazi salutes, once during a meeting where a former Conservative MP was present. In 2011, the association was banned from Corpus Christi college after an OUCA member was recorded singing a pro-Nazi song in their JCR, an incident which also led to the resignation of several association members.
In 2009, the association was forced to change its name to Oxford Conservative Association, following an incident where two members made racist jokes during an election husting, and were encouraged by others whilst doing so. The incident attracted national press coverage, and both members were expelled from the national Conservative party. The Oxford Union also banned OUCA from using their premises following this incident. Due to administrative issues and unpaid debts, the association was again forced to drop ‘University’ from its name in 2012, regaining it later.
More recently, during Hilary 2018, a Bullingdon Club president and OUCA returning officer allegedly chanted “my castle’s bigger than yours” and “I’ll buy your family” at an OUCA event, in addition to boasting of consuming 43 drinks. Drunken behaviour was apparently frequent, with a junior officer reporting that sexism and harassment of female guests had repeatedly occurred during OUCA events that year. Following this, OUCA went on to ban the Bullingdon club, a move which caused contention amongst members.
Many OUCA members have gone on to serve as prominent public figures. Past presidents include former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, former and current cabinet ministers such as Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Grieve and Jacob Rees-Mogg, and former BBC political editor Nick Robinson. Rees-Mogg also currently serves as the association’s honorary president, with former prime minister David Cameron as its current patron.
St Peter’s College have been approached for comment.