Margaret Roberts: The OUCA Years

Jack Matthews (Ex-Returning Officer, University) is reading for a DPhil in Earth Sciences.

Earlier this term we paid our respects to Baroness Thatcher; a truly great woman who rendered memorable service to her country, and the cause of freedom worldwide. Many will know her within our Association as the ex-President, Somerville and our Patron, but her time with OUCA is much richer and has potential to cast light on her political choices later in life.

Margaret Roberts came to the University of Oxford to read Chemistry in 1943. She soon became involved in OUCA, slowly rising up the ranks. She first ran to be on Committee, most probably in her second year of studies. In Michaelmas Term 1945, she served as General Agent (similar to our modern Political Officer) and was a member of a sub-committee who produced a report on the then recent General Election defeat. The sub-committee, which comprised Margaret Roberts, Stanley Moss (ex-President, Balliol – Hilary Term 1946), and Michael Kinchin-Smith (ex-President, Christ Church ~1941 – who later married OUCA’s first female President, Rachel Willink) reflected on the reasons for the Conservative electoral defeat, and on how OUCA should reform to help bring about a revival in Conservative support around Oxford.

One quote from this sub-committee report which stands out to me states “If OUCA is to become an active proselyting body, as distinct from an organisation for arranging talks and general discussions to no set purpose, it can no longer drift in its present aloofness.” Thatcher’s words remind us that while OUCA does, and should have, a rich social side, we should always be actively working to spread the Conservative message and see that Conservatives are elected to power.

By Hilary Term of 1946 she was Secretary, in which capacity she represented OUCA at a Conservative student conference in London. Come Trinity she had become Treasurer, a term in which the Association was visited by the Rt. Hon. Geoffrey Lloyd (Former Minister for Information), A. H. E. Molson (Chairman of the TRG and ex-President, New College ~1926), and the Rt. Hon. Oliver Lyttelton D.S.O. M.C. (Former Minister of Production).

Her time as President came in Michaelmas Term 1946. OUCA’s News Digest shows it to have been a vibrant and successful term, in which Margaret implemented many of the policies she had researched whilst General Agent. The membership of OUCA is said to have been “well past the 1000 mark”, a fantastic achievement when the smaller size of the then University is taken into consideration. A notable visiting speaker was the Rt. Hon. Anthony Eden. Further OUCA achievements noted in News Digest from the term included success in the Union elections: “On Friday evening it was known that the new President of the Union was to be Mr. Roger Gray, Queens, ex-Treasurer of the Union and of OUCA, and that Sir Edward Boyle, Christ Church, had beaten his nearest opponent by 4 votes for the Secretaryship. We extend to them our warmest congratulations”. New Digest goes on to note that the “Hon. A. N. Wedgewood-Benn, elected Treasurer by a very large majority, is nominally a Socialist, though his views, which he holds with great sincerity, seem eminently Liberal.” – something to share with one’s OULC friends if they’re giving you trouble!

Other notable events include a debate which was organised against the Socialist Club, in which the socialists argued that “A property-owning democracy is a contradiction in terms”. It is nice to think that perhaps this debate, arranged in Thatcher’s term as President, may have been the seed which led to the growth of her policy to allow tenants to buy their council houses. It is also worthy of note that in her term as President in Michaelmas Term 1946, 40% of those elected onto OUCA’s committee were women – something we struggle to achieve now in a time of near 50:50 gender balance across the University. We would do well to follow the ex-President, Somerville’s example and work to make sure our Association is more reflective of wider society in its make-up.

The final mention of Margaret Roberts in the archives available comes from News Digest Trinity Term 1947. The article is a gossip column on the OUCA Garden Party, and the tone in which Margaret is described shows how committed she was to OUCA; “Miss Roberts told us it was positively her last OUCA function.” In other news from the garden party, Tony Benn arises once again; “Meanwhile there was quite a separate little party going on under the mulberry tree. The Hon. Anthony Wedgewood Been in a red tie and Miss Elizabeth Spranger in a red dress seemed to be the centre of this Lib-Lab group. Mr David Glass in his sober Tory dress and top hat was a mellowing influence standing on the fringe of the revolutionaries”.

She came to our association in its hour of need, and reformed it fit to help support the many Conservative gains at the 1950 General Election. She came to our Party, and built a Party of aspiration that was open to all and saw Conservatives back in power in 1979. But most importantly she came to Number 10 and reformed our Country, making it fit to fight in a globalised world.

We shall think of her with thanksgiving, that she was part of our Association, and was there in our days of need to be a leader and inspirer of the Nation.