No vote on ‘no confidence’ was the right choice for the Union


This article is a response to Nathan Akehurst’s article “It’s not just the Union President we should have no confidence in, it’s the Union“, published 29th May

The decision by the Union on Thursday evening to not put the motion of no confidence in President Ben Sullivan to the house is one that should be applauded. By cancelling any vote on the motion, the Union has forcefully reinstated the principle that it is not for a debating chamber to judge whether the allegations against the President have any substance – that is the job of the police and, if needs be, the courts. Inigo Lapwood’s interjection spoke for far more members of the audience than anyone else in the room did, as the vote emphatically showed.

The decision has not proven popular among those who wished to vote to condemn him, necessarily so, but the tactics they have resorted to are at best disingenuous, and at worst disturbing. For a start, we have already heard claims of sexism from the Chair, a claim that should surely be buttressed by evidence beyond simply the number of men or women invited to speak. This is far from the worst argument that has been heard against the result.

The ideas expressed in another article deserve the epithet of disturbing. The idea, repeated over and over again, that this result shows the Union as “inept” at responding to the allegations by not forcing a President to resign – which, it must be remembered, it cannot do – is wrong, and I, like those who spoke on Thursday, am sick of hearing this allegation. It does not follow that to take an allegation seriously, you must demand the accused steps down before the investigation is completed. The principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ does not demand that we all support the President, but it surely at least demands that we do not condemn him, since we simply do not know whether the allegations have substance, and have no way of knowing until such a time as he is charged.

Furthermore, the President is not simply pretending that it is business as usual; by stepping aside when speakers require him to, the President is not simply sweeping the allegations under the carpet.Given that these allegations are still exactly that – allegations – this is a proportionate response; you have no duty to “[prove] your innocence”, to quote a prominent critic of Sullivan, even inside a courtroom, and certainly not outside one.

This is only one of a series of deplorable claims made in the article by Nathan Akehurst published on this website. The idea, firstly, that the democratic process was subverted, is preposterous. The Chair’s action of taking a poll before deciding the way that poll advised him epitomises the democratic process, and such a large margin cannot simply be put down to vague ideas of packing the chamber. By voting in such a large margin, the chamber made its feelings clear on the issue, and the Chair was right to give effect to them; to suggest otherwise implies that large majorities should be ignored simply at the Chair’s discretion, which is surely what would really subvert the democratic process.

Then we hear, as we always do, how the Union is a bad institution purely because it invites speakers that the writer disagrees with. It is disingenuous to argue that we do not push the envelope by inviting controversial speakers that would fall foul of no platform policies of other institutions that are anathema to free speech; “radical” does not have to mean “radical left”. Then we hear the tired argument that the Union’s traditions are somehow a negative force. Put simply, they are not. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the convention and grandeur of the institution per se; the tired claim that we must always associate formalism and well-dressed officers with elitism is one that should be laid to rest.

I do have no confidence, but it is in neither the President nor the Union – it is in a campaign that seeks to eviscerate a termcard based on an allegation alone. A campaign that has been described as “intimidating” by the people harassed, and that insults the hard work of all of the committees of the Union. A campaign that hypocritically argues that the Union is bigger than its President – so the President must resign – while using the President as a locus to urge speakers to cancel their talks. A campaign whose head continues to sign open letters with an OUSU position despite having no mandate whatsoever to do so. And, finally, a campaign that seeks to save face after a resounding defeat by hurling abuse at the Union and its members for making what it perceives as the ‘wrong’ decision.

To reiterate; Thursday’s decision was the best result possible, and I am glad that the Union’s rules allowed such a result. We have sent the message that needs to be sent, on a matter of fundamental constitutional principle as opposed to posturing to reactionary sentiment, which is that we have no right to judge. I sincerely hope that such sentiment is carried away from the Union by the press with the same fervour that the premature condemnations and campaigns against the President have, and those still involved in doing the judging heed the message.

Join the discussion on Twitter: @OxStuComment

Want to write for the Comment section? Get in touch at

Liked reading this article? Sign up to our weekly mailing list to receive a summary of our best articles each week – click here to register

Want to contribute? Join our contributors group here or email us – click here for contact details