» The ‘reputation of the Oxford Union’ ¦ What You Can Get Away With

As most of you probably know already, I didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge. Instead, I spent my University days by the sea at Swansea, which may be why some of the shock and horror at the latest brouhahaha about the Oxford Union confuses me.

One of the complaints from those opposed to Griffin and Irving speaking there is that somehow they’ll be legitimised by being allowed to speak in the hallowed halls of the Oxford Union, as if this one student-run debating society has the power to decide the opinions of the nation.

And this is where the bit about not going to Oxford becomes important, because I’m sure that to people who studied there, the Union is a fantastically important body that creates inspirational oratorical figures who’ll go on to shape the future history of the nation. However, to the rest of us, it’s some quaint debating club for posh people at a University most people don’t really care about that occasionally gets mentioned in the news when some celebrity gets invited.

Now, I’m sure someone could tell me about the vitally important debates the Oxford Union have held over the past few years, but doing a search for it on the BBC News site finds the top stories for ‘Oxford Union’ mention the following people speaking there: General Mike Jackson, Bishop Gene Robinson, Ray Mallon, Clint Eastwood, Claire Short, Charlotte Church, Douglas Hurd, Judi Dench, Jon Bon Jovi, Jerry Hall, Michael Jackson and Gerard Way (the singer with My Chemical Romance). The idea that an organisation that’s not much different from the TV chat show circuit having some mythical reputation and authority that it will magically bestow onto Griffin and Irving is not one widely shared by most people.

And while we’re talking of celebrity speakers, the Union has invited Kermit The Frog to speak there, so I expect it won’t be long before the Millennium Elephant gets invited to travel there.

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8 comments untill now

  1. “I’m sure that to people who studied there, the Union is a fantastically important body”

    Edit: people = tossers. Not all of them. But a high proportion of everyone I ever met involved with either Union was a first class tosser. It is quite possible to go to Oxford or Cambridge for three whole years and never set foot inside the Union (not true of me, but then I did only go to see Ben Affleck).

    “it’s some quaint debating club for posh people at a University most people don’t really care about”

    This is true whether you went there or not. This, and not free speech, or objectionable fantasy viewpoints, is the sole reason why I get upset about the Irving/Griffin nonsense every time it rolls around. It deservedly gives Oxbridge even more of a bad name for empty self-important bellowing than it already has.

  2. “However, to the rest of us, it’s some quaint debating club for posh people at a University most people don’t really care about that occasionally gets mentioned in the news when some celebrity gets invited.”

    I think you’ll find that quite a large number of people at oxford feel much the same!

  3. As someone who did make the occasional late-night inebriated speech at the Oxford Union, and irrespective of the rights & wrongs of inviting these 2 loathesome individuals, I too find the idea that this ‘matters’ pretty laughable.

    I’m sure that to people who studied there, the Union is a fantastically important body that creates inspirational oratorical figures who’ll go on to shape the future history of the nation

    Well by the time I went there (early 1990s) the Union was a place of extremely low repute amongst the wider undergraduate body. But the elections were a lot of fun for those involved (in a backstabbing, intrigue about things that don’t really matter kind of way!).

  4. No, the vast majority of students who went there don’t like it either. It’s not actually a student union – it’s a private club, which charges a lot of money (£100 plus, if I remember).

  5. Actually thinking about it, I suppose the problem is that the small minority of Oxford students who were obsessed with the Union are exactly the ones who end up in politics and political journalism.

  6. I did have a feeling that many Oxford students felt the same, but I didn’t want to jump the gun and speak for you all – and Matthew’s second point probably does explain why it gets such a high media profile for its various stunts.

  7. As a current graduate student at Oxford, I agree that the Union is a niche political body for those with a lot of money
    in their pocket. Had the anti-racism lobbyists not rallied against the Griffin-Irving invites, the Union
    would have remained the low-key, low-attended body that it is! The rallyists unintentionally gave the Union publicity that
    it probably never deserved.

  8. Glad you enjoyed your stay down the Mumbles.

    The fact is we should not even ask these people to speak about freedom of speech if they had their own way we have no freedom at all.

    In the end perhaps some at Oxford invited these people for other reason, perhaps they believe in the so called facts that are spouted.