A former OUSU Returning Officer has dismissed claims he is “associated” with the rigging of last May’s NUS referendum, after a no-confidence motion proposed for this week’s OUSU Council accuses him of “improper” and “anti-democratic” behaviour.
Alex Walker, a third-year Chemistry student at Wadham College, described the proposed motion of no-confidence against him as a “nasty little vendetta”, as well as “factually incorrect” and “totally misleading”.
Walker was OUSU Returning Officer during last year’s University-wide referendum on NUS affiliation. Originally producing a ‘No’ vote, the referendum’s result was declared void following suspicion of vote rigging, with over 1,000 spare voter codes used to vote ‘No’.
The no-confidence motion proposed for this week’s OUSU Council states that: “As a minimum, Alex Walker’s actions and decisions allowed for the defrauding of the electorate,” and that his continued membership of OUSU would be “harmful to the interests” of the student union.
The motion, proposed by former leader of the ‘No’ campaign Jack Matthews, mentions that Walker generated around 1,400 spare voter codes, when “common practice” is to generate only 200. These voter codes were then used to “systematically rig” the referendum.
The report of the University Proctor into the allegations of vote-rigging has not yet been released, nine months after the event.
The motion also criticises Walker for putting the spare voter codes onto his USB drive, an action described as “contrary to normal practice”, and one that “raises questions about his commitment to the ballot’s secrecy”.
Additionally, the motion notes that Walker originally directed that only he would be present at the vote count, a ruling again “contrary to normal practice”. The direction was overruled following protest from Jack Matthews, leader of the ‘No’ campaign.
Walker resigned as RO the day after vote rigging revelations emerged, concluding that his position was “no longer tenable”.
Walker condemned the no-confidence motion against him as a “nasty vendetta”, commenting: “It will buy Jack [Matthews] an extra few column inches to support what he is pleased to call his political career. Their motion is factually incorrect, omits vital information, is totally misleading, and most of all, just plain silly.
“I’m not a particular fan of the nauseating Jack Matthews Show, and since my resignation from OUSU I have been better off for its absence. I will now, like every other student at this university, continue to ignore student politicians like Jack and get on with my life.
“Jack’s existence may, as it has for the last decade, revolve around throwing stroppy tantrums in OUSU; mine most certainly does not.”
Matthews, a postgraduate student and former leader of the Oxford University Conservative Association, defended his decision to propose the no-confidence motion: “Out of respect for the importance of due process, and for the benefit of the welfare of all those involved, I will not be drawn into a trial executed by the Press or by social media.
“This is a matter for Council to decide upon; with the facts being presented, and discussion properly mediated. I wholeheartedly stand by my decision to bring this motion to Council – the place which not only has the right, but the responsibility to make these resolutions so fundamental to the preservation of our democratic system.”
Christ Church student Will Neaverson, who is seconding the no-confidence motion against Walker, accused the former Returning Officer of failing to take “adequate precautions to prevent the malpractice from occurring”, commenting: “We feel something must be done by Council about this huge blemish on our past, and in the absence of proctoral judgement, this must be done through a motion.”
The no-confidence motion came under fire from some active OUSU members, however. Adam Roberts, former President of Wadham Student Union, described the motion as a “deeply inappropriate” attempt to undermine “due process and justice” and use OUSU Council as a “kangaroo court”.
James Elliot, an active member of the NUS, agreed, commenting: “Expelling students should only ever be an extreme measure. I fully intend to speak against [the motion] in Council.”
The allegations of vote-rigging around last May’s referendum attracted national publicity.