CU Labour Club

Oxford University Labour Club

Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) was founded in 1919 to provide a voice for Labour Party values and for socialism at Oxford University, England.

OULC holds regular speaker events, social events, policy discussion and takes part in year-round campaigning activity, in the student movement, for the Labour Party and on issues decided by the membership. In recent years, the club hosted high-profile figures from the Labour movement including Tony Benn, David Miliband, Alastair Campbell, Brendan Barber, Derek Simpson (General Secretary of Amicus), and author John O'Farrell. It also produces a weekly newsletter, Look Left

Constitution and organisation

OULC is run by an elected executive committee. The current Co-Chairs are Daniel Wilson and Vincent Romanelli.

OULC also holds General Meetings and Termly General Meetings at which its members can pass policy in the form of motions.

Notable former members of the executive committee

Involvement in Labour politics

Labour students

OULC is affiliated to, and has strong relations with, Labour Students, and former OULC chairs have held a number of prominent positions. Labour Students was nationally chaired in 2002/3 by Ellie Reeves and in 2003/4 by Karim Palant. In 2004/5 Oliver Kempton was elected as Campaigns & Membership Officer, as was Steve Longden in 2006/7 and Emily Richards in 2007/8


OULC also has links with other socialist organisations, trade unions, and Labour Party groups, including the Oxford District and Reading Labour Parties. OULC has campaigned in Reading in the past, and the current Chair of Oxford East Constituency Labour Party is a former OULC member, Oscar Van Nooijen.

Broader political involvement

Oxford University Student Union

Since the establishment of the Oxford University Student Union in the early 1970s, OULC has maintained a strong 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), 1998 (Anneliese Dodds), 1999 (Kirsty McNeill), 2004 (Emma Norris), 2005 (Alan Strickland), and 2006 (Martin McCluskey) OUSU presidential elections. OUSU's executive committee and delegate body has also had a consistently strong Labour presence.

National Union of Students

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

Local Government

Six former members of OULC currently sit on Oxford City Council.


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 Milliband


David Lewis and the early 1930s

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.

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 inevitiable.

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 contigient had a street battle in Oxford with members of the Labour Club and the townsfolk.

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. Ted Jolliffe stated "there was a difference between his speeches at the [[Oxford Union|[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. 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. 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.

When Lewis returned to Canada in the summer of 1935, there really wasn't anyone to replace him, to keep the communists at bay 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.

The Communists takeover

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. Shortly thereafter the two clubs joined together forming a "popular front". 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. Of the club's total membership, the Communists made up approximately less than 200 members.

World War II splits

The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939 caused a major club split, with the communists now being strongly against British involvement in a European war that would have seen Britain fighting the Soviet Union. Following a vote to reaffirm OULC's affiliation to the popular front movement in early 1940 which resulted in the Labour Party disaffiliating the OULC, Executive members including Tony Crosland and Roy Jenkins decided to leave OULC and form Oxford University Democratic Socialist Club (OUDSC).

The schism was extremely damaging to the OULC, which was quickly reduced to an increasingly extreme communist rump; within 12 months the OULC had fewer than 100 members. Its standing was further damaged when the national Labour Party chose to allow the OUDSC to affiliate to it — making the OUDSC the effective student Labour Party body in Oxford, ignoring the presence of OULC. The club's financial future was also in jeopardy, as new OUDSC Treasurer Roy Jenkins and OULC Treasurer Iris Murdoch engaged in an ongoing battle about which new organization should carry the debts and assets present prior to the split.

As the war progressed, membership of both clubs changed, and the reasons for the split became more the stuff of history, OULC and OUDSC merged following a referendum of the members of both clubs in 1943. It is interesting to note that many of the key protagonists of both clubs went on to be colleagues in future Labour governments. It is also of interest that Roy Jenkins in particular demonstrated a willingness to depart from established party organizations when his position would be better represented by a new, more moderate organisation. This foreshadowed the establishment of the Social Democratic Party over forty years later.

References and notes

External links

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