My name is Maryam, and I’m a Tory. Oof, that feels better. Yes, I am a massive Tory. A chronic Tory, if you will. A love of all things sky blue runs so deep in my veins that my first teenage crush wasn’t directed at some squeaky voiced, pre-pubescent boyband member. No. One rainy evening, aged thirteen, I switched the TV over to Newsnight, and ‘shaboom!’ There he was.
Boris Johnson, flaxen haired and resplendent in all his Tory glory, confusing the living daylights out of poor old Paxo. I was sold. My lovely – but largely lefty – friends respond to my political views with anything from an indulgent smile, to “GET THEE BEHIND ME, SATAN.” Yet they’ve always questioned my lack of involvement with OUCA, and quite rightly, too. After all, I’ve been knocking around Oxford for the best part of five years. Why hadn’t I dived into the fray during my first term? Why wasn’t I hacking my way through OUCA with all the manic enthusiasm of a caffeinated tree surgeon? What was my excuse?
To be perfectly honest, I’m more of a gerbil than a lion. I’m a wuss. And the horrific stories I’d heard about OUCA were enough to send me sprinting in the opposite direction. You know the sort. Endemic sexism. Pandemic racism. Crack squads of murderous hacks, waiting to ply newcomers with alcohol before buying their vote and dumping them unceremoniously outside Shepherd & Woodward. And so, I lived out my undergraduate years in a state of relative political apathy, still an ardent Conservative but just too darn lily-livered to do anything about it. Graduation came and went, I inexplicably chose to stay for a DPhil (“wait, now you’re paying me to be incompetent?”) and something, I decided, had to change.
Last week I signed up for a spot of Saturday afternoon canvassing with OUCA, for an upcoming by-election in nearby Abingdon. Having received instructions to meet at the bus stop (there I was, thinking we’d be hitching a ride with the Nazgûl) I reported for duty on St. Aldates, expecting to be faced with – what? A crowd of newt fanciers? An armada of hacks? A live re-enactment of The Pit and The Pendulum? All seemed plausible. I steadied myself, and approached the suspiciously normal looking blokes reading the bus timetable. Reader, I had fun. The sort which turns a twenty minute bus ride into a cosy chat, which turns strangers into comrades, and lends itself to “see you next week,” rather than “sorry, I have to leave, my tutor’s pet tapeworm just died.” I left the Oxford bubble and spoke to real people, living in real houses, about real problems: traffic, schools, and the National Rail. And I did so with a bunch of solid, chatty, hilariously good-humoured OUCA-ers.
Buoyed up by the day’s events, I decided to push the boat out and attend Port & Policy the following evening. This Sunday evening social, for the uninitiated, has a fearsome reputation for being a bastion of leery, jeery, old-school House of Commons style debating. If I had been a tad apprehensive about canvassing, then I was positively bricking it before P&P. The format, it transpired, is this: three debates, including one emergency motion to be announced on the night, with anyone free to make a speech for the proposition or opposition. The atmosphere at P&P is hard to quantify, but here’s a good approximation; think back to your best tutorial. I’m guessing its defining characteristic was an unspoken, collective understanding that there is no such thing as a stupid question. And, unlike the bloodthirsty hounds of folklore, I found veteran members to be fiercely protective of newbies like myself, to the extent that interjections and points of information are expressly forbidden during maiden speeches. Yes, there was a bit of rowdiness, but it was reminiscent of a harmless Christmas morning tussle. People talked amongst themselves, swilled port, and the Ribena jug got a fair amount of action too, the lucky thing. Nothing was said out of malice, and at no point did I feel at all uncomfortable, intimidated, or out of place.
So what’s the upshot of all this? The OUCA of old has been shaken up and infused with a healthy dose of normal; not so much yah-boo as yeah-I-watched-Eurovision-too. Closet Tories, it doesn’t matter if you’re not an expert on politics! Nobody will shoot you down for failing to know the minutae of the latest EU directive on snail farming. All you need is enthusiasm, and a vague notion that you really quite like what the Conservatives are about. Except for those nasty rosettes, of course. No-one expects you to like those.