Young Bright – And On The Left?

11th August, 2012 10:20 am

If you a) are thinking of applying to Oxbridge and b) watched Thursday’s BBC Two documentary, ‘Young, Bright and on The Right’; IGNORE IT! For the 99%, both Oxford and Cambridge are universities full of intelligent, inquisitive and inclusive people from a whole range of backgrounds.

If you a) are a student at any university thinking about getting involved in student politics and b) watched Thursday’s BBC Two documentary, ‘Young, Bright and on The Right’; IGNORE IT! For the 99% who get involved with real student politics, it is a meaningful, enjoyable and inclusive experience.

In a Telegraph article accompanying the BBC Two documentary, Joe Cooke (former president of the Oxford University Conservative Association) wrote that “The world of student politics is not for the faint hearted. It is vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.” Chris Monk then spent much of the hour trying to persuade us that procuring port and cheese was a high stakes game. For those involved with OUCA – or OCA after incompetence led to the university disassociating itself from the organisation – and CUCA that is, unfortunately, as high as the stakes ever get.

Chances are, however, if you choose to get involved with your university Labour club or students union, you will see that the stakes are much higher and the politics much better. Nowhere is this contrast starker than in Oxford. Sunday is the most important day of the political week in Oxford. For the Tories it is the infamous ‘Port and Policy’ – heavy on the port, light on the policy; for the Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) it’s the weekly canvassing session in Oxford East.

Working closely with the CLP (who deserve a fair share of the credit), this year round effort for an outstanding MP led to a 4.2% swing to Labour in 2010. This more than quadrupled Andrew Smith’s lead over the Liberal Democrats and flew in the face of the national trend. Oxford East has remained a bastion of progressive politics in a sea of home counties conservatism. For the people of Oxford East the stakes couldn’t be much higher.

However, it’s not just that the stakes are higher; the politics is better. Young, Bright and on The Right showcased an awful “politics”. It was a “politics” of games and backstabbing. What more can you expect from elections to a social club where the only possible benefit to club members comes through cronyism? OULC work tirelessly to bring like-minded students together for the sake of a common good. As a result, there is a real sense of achievement that all Labour campaigners will recognise. The euphoria in the town hall as the 2010 general election results were read out did more to bring me into the Labour movement than any drinks party. It will always remain a highlight of my three years at Oxford.

Of course its not all (Labour Doorstep) work and no play but the socialising is different – the friendships made are genuine. They are not “political friendships”. Each term is packed with all the social events that can be expected from a student organisation. Each year a network of friendship and trust, that extends well beyond the dreaming spires, is created. It is a network without patronage, based on a shared politics, connecting some of the best people at the university.

Instead of putting people off politics, those involved with OULC often find themselves being drawn in to further political activity. One of the best examples is the Students Union where members of OULC have been heavily represented in elections (and are usually successful) for as long as anyone can remember. The Oxford University Students Union – unlike the Oxford Union where much of ‘Young, Bright and on The Right’ was filmed – does more to help Oxford students (and, in particular, to break down the outdated stereotypes of Oxbridge that were bolstered by Thursday’s documentary) than any other organisation.

Above all, the political left in Oxford is inclusive. From first time doorknockers to freshers attending their first policy forum, there is a conscious effort to make everyone feel welcome. Anyone can speak without deference to a pompous hierarchy. Unlike the sexism of Port & Policy, women are positively encouraged to get more involved and to speak up. Nor have there been any racism scandals that have reached the national press.

This is the real face of Oxford student politics; at least if you’re Young, Bright and on the Left!

Adam Tyndall has just graduated from Hertford College, Oxford in PPE and was an active member of OULC (and the Oxford Union)

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