The Oxford Union Society, better known as the Oxford Union, is a prestigious private debating society in the city of Oxford, United Kingdom. Its membership is drawn almost entirely from the University of Oxford, although undergraduates at Oxford Brookes University are also permitted to join. Past presidents of the Oxford Union include many prominent British and foreign political figures, including former Prime Ministers William Gladstone, Harold Macmillan, Herbert Asquith and Edward Heath; assassinated Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto; and current Members of Parliament such as William Hague and Boris Johnson.
The Union hosts regular public debates, which often feature guest speakers drawn from the worlds of politics, academia, the media and the military. Any member can attend the debates. At the end of debates, it is customary to vote by "dividing the House"; members leave through two separate doors, the right hand being marked "Ayes" and the left "Noes". This is the same style of voting used in the British Parliament.
Union members also participate in international competitive debating. The Oxford IV is a well-known debating contest hosted by the Union; last term the Union Treasurer, Krishna Omkar, served as co-convenor of the IV.
Irving and Griffin controversy
In 2007, it was announced that the Union had invited controversial speakers Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party, and David Irving, a historian known for his polemical views about the Holocaust, to speak in a forum on freedom of speech. This attracted considerable controversy, with the president of the Oxford University Student Union and various left-wing student organisations, such as Unite Against Fascism, condemning the invitation. Within the Union, a poll of Union members was conducted on the issue, with members voting overwhelmingly in favour of the invitations. On the day of the debate (26 November 2007), protestors travelled from all over the country to participate in riots against the guest speakers; the demonstrators at one point breached the security cordon and broke into the main debating chamber.
- Oxford Union: Details of joining
- Oxford IV
- Union debate row speakers arrive, BBC News, 26 November 2007
- Unite Against Fascism website
- BNP to speak to Oxford students, BBC News, 24 November 2007
- Irving and Griffin spark fury at Oxford Union debate, The Guardian, 27 November 2007
- The uprising against facism: Students storm Oxford Union debate, The Independent, 27 November 2007
- Angry scenes greet Oxford debate, BBC News, 27 November 2007