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My record as a student politician

The blogosphere in the persons of TalkPolitics and Labour Councillor Bob Piper seems quite agitated about my record as a student politician Bob says:

"J.A.M. Hemming (the Max Clifford of self-publicity) was, according to Talk Politics, beaten in an election by a dog!
(Please refrain from tasteless comments about his Labour opponent in Yardley)."

There is a claim that this stimulated my awareness of election fraud. I don't think people should have to worry necessarily about their record as a student politician in the 1970s, but I don't see any particular issue in any event.

I studied Atomic, Nuclear and Theoretical Physics at Magdalen College, Oxford at which I had a scholarship in Natural Science (which meant I had £60 a year extra and a longer gown).

In 1978 I was elected as the Women's representative onto the JCR (Junior Common Room). That may sound a bit odd, but being as there were no women in the college at the time, there was noone to deal with "women's issues". In 1979 the first women were to be admitted to the college.

In 1979 I stood as Liberal Candidate for the Secretary of the Oxford University Students Union. I came fourth. First was Conservative, Second was Labour and third was the "Silly Party". It turned out at the count that the Silly Party candidate was the dog owned by the master of St Catherine's College. The dog, however, beat me fair and square without any electoral fraud. No paw prints were seen on any ballot papers. (We didn't have postal votes then).

In 1979 I was elected as the Policy Convenor of Magdalen College. This made me responsible for negotiations with the college and representing the student body at University level. I was also elected to the Joint Committee with Hebdomidal Council and through the academic side to the Joint Committee with the General Board. At one stage the college put up the rents by a massive amount. We then ran a rent strike in which a certain William Hague participated (he was in the year below me). Having threatened to expel 60% of the students and decided not to the college relented and reduced the rents.

In 1980 there was an alliance between some Liberal Democrats and some Labour people to defeat the Conservatives. A meeting was held which selected candidates. A different slate was nominated so I refused to have anything to do with such an anti-democratic group. I therefore stood as a "Mercian Nationalist" for the NUS delegation and Oxford University elected 3 Conservatives, 3 Progressives and 1 Mercian Nationalist with me getting the third largest number of votes and being elected 4th by STV. The Mercian Nationalist candidate beat all the fringe left groups and the Silly Party (the Silly Party offered an alliance).

Mercia, for those who don't know, is the region on the 880 boundaries which is pretty close to Government Office West Midlands boundaries. The epic poem Beowulf contains the text: "But Hemming's kinsman hindered this. referring to Offa. Showing that Offa's family name was Hemming.

Emperor Offa of Mercia, built Offa's dyke. (he was, however, not the same Offa as in the poem, but I think a descendent).

In 1980 also there was an election for OUSU president in which I was not a candidate and did not formally support either of the slates. (I actually supported one candidate off one slate (Centre Democrat) and one candidate off the other (Progressive)). At the count it was found that a lot of the ballot papers had been filled in the same way and it was concluded that the election had been stuffed.

I was later told that ballot papers had been swapped in the ballot boxes in the process of them being taken to the count. I was told who did that, but 26 years later it would be unfair to finger anyone.


Bob Piper said…
John, I thought 'fingering someone' was fairly common practice in the Junior Common Room. Obviously you learnt from your earlier mistakes, otherwise you would no doubt have proposed a coalition or job share with the Conservative, despite the fact that you couldn't get more votes than the dog!
john said…
It was actually quite a small dog.
Stephen Booth said…

Very interesting. I was also a student politician (University of Keele 1989-1993). Although, I was fortunate enough to never lose to the various animals and inaninate objects who desired high office in our students union. As I recall "Bob, the piece of wood" was the most tenacious of these.

In one of my (successful) attempts to gain the office of "Vice Chair of Constitutional Committee" I did find myself running against Margaret Thatcher, she had just quit No.10 so must have been seeking a new role.

Sadly the elevated offices always eluded me so I had to be satisfied with posts where glory was rare but there was work aplenty. I did one year have to declare an election null and void due to irregularities in the voting and no confidence the rgeturnin officer. When one candidate (who happens to be the best friend of the returning officer) wins by more votes than there are voters one gets suspicious.
PoliticalHack said…
Debates at Keele were invariably ended by the arrival of the chip van in the car park, a stampede down the stairs and somebody shouting 'quorum.'
Helen Ceridwen said…
Just stumbled on this - I was also at Oxford (1979-82) and remember the OUSU election well; I was at the count at Keble and several ballot boxes took approx. 3 hours to make the journey round the corner from LMH. The fix was crude and easily spotted - but, who did it? It wasn't me, though at least one person blamed me, and I've been waiting over 30 years to find out ...
John Hemming said…
I have no idea about that particular ballox box stuffing. It was one of the presidential elections that had a lot of box stuffing going on.

Normally election fraud was limited to personation.

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