Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Tory Monday Club

As I promised earlier, here are my brief recollections of the Tory Monday Club from my days as an undergraduate at the University of Kent. I've left names out as, with one exception, I have no idea where they are now.

Many years ago now the Kent University Conservative Association experienced several of the problems that all political societies experience at one point or another, albeit altogether at once. In the 1999/2000 year membership increased hugely (to the irritation of the now deceased Kent Labour Club who drifted into extinction over the next two years) but with it came a number of individuals who were to cause problems. Amongst them was one who frankly fitted the stereotype of the tweed jacket Tory (and I use that word deliberately) with ideas that even people in Lord Salisbury's Conservative party would have been ashamed to be associated with. However he rarely expressed them at first.

When the annual round of officer elections came up that January we had the unenviable situation of two strong candidates for Chairperson. One was the above mentioned, the other was the sitting Secretary. The election threatened to turn into the classic "should the society be primarily a political force or a good political/social body" that almost all political societies face at one point. The meeting was literally divided down the middle - the first ballot tied. After two hours of discussing how to break a tie (no-one in those days seemed to realise there is such a thing as drawing lots - it's good enough for deciding control of Crawley council!). Eventually the tie was broken against him but over the next six months the division in the society continued. The loser was not especially gracious at times and at one point over the next few months went and caused a lot of deliberate confusion by setting up a dining club and making no attempt to dispel confusion.

For some reason I forget now we had to have another set of elections that June. This time round there was a suspicious influx of new members signing up just before the meeting (the rules of qualifying to vote were changed not long after) as well as a mixture of mud throwing and charm offensives. The same candidates stood and this time round the guy won. Over the vacation it rapidly became clear what a big mistake this had been.

All membership organisations require members to survive and university societies especially need to recruit new members every year, with so many existing ones graduating. Nearly everybody understood this and several months of preparation for the new year had been made, including getting a number of high profile speakers as well as the more mundane preparation for the Freshers' Fair. But the new Chairperson was one of the few who didn't, believing instead that the society should be a handful of political obsessives "who are committed", believing that they would seek the society out. Matters were not further helped by his decision not to return to Canterbury until the day of Freshers' Fair itself, lying that he couldn't travel beforehand. (This was the time of the fuel protests but he was traveling by train.) Consequently other officers had to put the whole thing together and it went well, apart from the Chairperson turning up in the middle of things and wanting to start displaying flags that a lot of us were uncomfortable with.

Subsequently over the next few weeks divisions and feuds continued, even though our membership was so large we were having problems finding a room that could seat everyone. What the new members made of all this I'm not sure but there were a lot of nasty things said and some of the meetings were uncomfortable.

It also didn't help that our external image was being damaged. The height came at a students' union general meeting. Some of us had tabled a motion for a campaign for better lighting on campus. But during the meeting the Chairperson and his little coterie of mates called quorum and invalidated the meeting because they wanted a laugh. It provoked a lot of hostile media coverage, both on and off campus, and brought things to a head. A lot of members who weren't at the meeting were given a very distorted account of things.

Matters came to a head at the society meetings afterwards. There was a lot of arguing and one resignation at the first. Then by the second the following week we had the spectacles of the local party agent turning up, most of the officers (myself included) agreeing to a joint resignation if we couldn't force the hands and the announcement that the Chairperson was leaving to form a new group, not affiliated to the students' union, that would be more political. A good number left with him.

Over the next few weeks it became increasingly clear to a few of us just what "the Tory Monday Club" actually was, though some of the members were still ignorant, having joined out of ties of friendship and personalities. But at the students' union annual general meeting the following written question was submitted and answered:

(From the minutes.)
Q: Georgios Charambalos to the Executive: Are you aware of the following:
-That recently an organisation was formed on campus calling itself the Tory Monday Club?
-That it is named after an extreme right-wing, anti-decolonisation, pro-apartheid organisation formed in the 1960s with strong links to the National Front and opposed to non-white immigration?
-That **** ****, the chairman of the TMC, has frequently been overheard around campus making derogatory comments that have deeply insulted and upset many people for their racist, homophobic, sexist and generally insulting tone, such as openly proclaiming that any LGB person who is out should get back in the closet immediately, regardless of the pain such a situation causes?
-That **** ****, his right-hand man, has also been frequently overheard making such insulting and upsetting comments including the frequent reference to numerous black women as Mrs Buthelezi?
-That **** ****, Press and Propaganda Officer of the TMC, has recently posted messages to the newsgroup ukc.misc implying that the AIDS epidemic is the fault of homosexual and bisexual people?
-That the three individuals named above have persistently sought to cause the maximum disruption and chaos on campus, such as the last Union General Meeting when they called "count"?
-That many people have found these statements and actions by members of the TMC to be deeply upsetting?
-That the leaders of the TMC have frequently taken advantage of other students' lack of full knowledge of a situation to present an extremely inaccurate and highly biased point of view to present themselves in a favourable light when challenged over any controversial situation?
-That on several occasions the leaders of the TMC have been informed about the fear and upset that they have generated and asked to correct the information but on each occasion their response has been either personal abuse aimed at the questioner or to come out with ridiculous comments along the lines of "Most students are just here to inject themselves" or "Is this just left-wing bias?"?
-Are you aware of all this?
-What does the Executive intend to do, given the serious nature of the situation?

A: Seb Martineau [SU President]: States that in the previous year a No Platform motion was rejected so people with upsetting views can state them. It is up to every member of SU to respond appropriately. Exercises freedom of speech to state that he thinks these people are "sad, twisted, despicable little bigots."
Despite being by far the longest question I've ever heard submitted and read out, it generated a huge standing ovation, as did the President's response. The Tory Monday Club's response to this was weak and this led to a couple more members leaving, having now realised what they had joined. From there onwards the Club drifted into obscurity and eventually faded away.

Meanwhile Kent University Conservative Association is still going strongly to this day.

That's the main bones of it, although there's a lot of detail that could have been added, including some of the nastiness that went back and forth. But nowadays it's all in the past and everyone's graduated so I'm surprised anyone's even searching for it.

4 comments:

C4' said...

A very interesting and informative read Tim. Thank you!

Paul Burgin said...

Well you have my full sympathy, although from that you can see one of the reasons why a whole generation turned their backs on the Conservatives!

Matthew Woodget said...

Quality - political war at university. I remember these times well :) Seb's rather splendid use of free speech topped it off :) I'll send you some appropriate photos of the TMC, that I took for the Union magazine (KRED), for you to enjoy. I found your page when trying to track down Nicky Cleghorn and Seb Martineau. If you're out there you too drop me a line! You should be able to find me easily enough :)

Matthew Woodget said...

'too' = 'two' grrr, can't edit the post. That's teach me to proof read thrice ;-)

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