The History of the Oxford University Conservative Association
The Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) was founded in 1924 in response to the emergence of the first Labour government, which led to demands for a revamped Oxford Conservatism, which had previously been represented by a disparate multitude of clubs. Its first recruitment notice declared its purpose: "to strengthen the Conservative cause among undergraduates and to ground that cause on its broadest foundations". Shortly after, the Association secured a visit from Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and in 1938 Winston Churchill addressed OUCA in a meeting in the debating chamber at the Oxford Union. In 1937, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, Franco-supporter John Stokes was beaten by moderate republican supporter Edward Heath by 40 votes to 33. Under Heath’s leadership OUCA also moved into the anti-appeasement camp and backed Anthony Eden against the party leadership.
OUCA had its first woman President, Rachel Willink of Lady Margaret Hall, in 1945 - twenty years before the Oxford Union even admitted women as members. In Michaelmas 1946 Margaret Roberts (later Thatcher) became President, with membership passing the one thousand mark for the first time since the 1920s. Isis commented that “the Conservative Association under the queenly sway of Margaret Roberts is at the height of its post-war boom”. In 1945, in response to the Labour election victory, the Association’s policy committee, including the then Margaret Roberts, produced an extensive report on the role of the party and OUCA in post-war politics.
Over its nine decades of history, OUCA has been a breeding ground for numerous politicians. Since Lord Hailsham joined the Cabinet as Minister of Education in 1957, a former President of the Association has sat at the Cabinet table of every Conservative government. This include two ex-Presidents who led the country as Prime Minister, Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher, and William Hague and Jeremy Hunt, who continue the tradition today. At the 2010 General Election, five former Presidents stood and won as Conservative candidates. However, some OUCA alumni have apparently strayed from Conservatism after leaving university. Phillip Whitehead, President in Trinity Term 1960, went on to become a Labour MP whilst Labour Foreign Office Minister Chris Bryant and UKIP MEP the Earl of Dartmouth are reported to be former officers. The Political Editor of the BBC, Nick Robinson, was OUCA President in 1985. In 2006 former OUCA Secretary Philip Hollobone MP revealed Labour Cabinet Minister Ed Balls, his Oxford contemporary, had been a member.
Today the Association continues to provide a Conservative voice within the University and communicate the ideas of its members to the Party. With the merger of the Oxford Tory Reform Group (which had provided an alternative forum of Conservative debate for students since 1965) in 2007, the Association represents a broad base of Conservative opinion. In September 2009 members voted unanimously to officially affiliate with Conservative Future, the party’s youth wing, which has helped to strengthen links with the local and national party. In March 2010 an Association event in support of the Oxford West parliamentary candidate, Nicola Blackwood, was used to launch Conservative Future’s national ‘Time to Get Involved‘ campaign.
The Association has been a committed campaigning force in recent elections, fielding candidates in the 2007 and 2014 Oxford City Council elections, campaigning for Boris Johnson in the 2008 London Mayoral Election and working hard to help win back Oxford West and Abingdon at the 2010 General Election. The Association spreads the Conservative message within the University through the hosting of prominent speakers and more informal student-led debates and social events. During term the Association holds weekly 'Port and Policy' debates, which are an opportunity for students to debate topical issues in a relaxed environment. The Association is keen to extend its influence beyond the political sphere, and OUCA members volunteer time with local charities and community groups, among other things, to make a contribution to the community of which we are a part.
We are always keen to discover more about our history; if you're an alumnus or alumna and would like to tell us about OUCA during your time, or would simply like to find out more about what OUCA is like now, please do get in touch.