On November 9, ULU Vice President (and then-Acting President) Daniel Cooper posted an entry on his blog entitled: ‘Why I Declined An Invitation To Lay a Wreath at the UOL’s Rememberance (sic) Service’, the reaction of which has since led into furore and an extensive debate, making headlines across London student press, the Oxford Student, and even national and international headlines in the Telegraph and Huffington Post.
In the controversial entry, which contains his letter to the Rvd. Stephen Williams, Cooper states that he declined to attend the ceremony ‘on principle’, claiming that modern-day remembrance ‘doesn’t fit with the reality of what took place in WWI’. He goes on to explain that the legacy of WWI as a ‘scramble for colonial possessions’ is not sufficiently addressed and PM David Cameron’s style of remembrance is ‘an insult to those sent to die’.
The very next day, a group titled ‘Dan Cooper Must Resign as ULU Vice-President’ appeared on Facebook and has since garnered over 1,700 ‘likes’. Their ‘Official Statement of Intent’ claims they believe the reputation of ULU has been ‘severely damaged’ and that he attempted to ‘politicise an apolitical event for his own political gain.’ They are currently petitioning ULU President Michael Chessum for a vote of no-confidence in Cooper, after unsuccessfully lobbying for his resignation. It is unclear how many members of this group are actually ULU members.
Cooper has since posted a follow-up carefully responding to his detractors, but it has been widely dismissed as unsatisfactory due to its lack of an actual apology for the offense they feel he has caused.
Much public debate has focused on whether Cooper was writing in a personal capacity or as a representative of ULU, and whether he was somehow duty-bound to attend. His blog has been defended by some supporters as ‘personal’, though critics have pointed out it bears the official ULU logo and his job title in the banner. However, Cooper and the new ULU President Michael Chessum have maintained there was no neglect of the VP or Acting President roles, citing the total absence of any official ULU policy on the matter.
Also contentious was Cooper’s apparent oversight not sending an elected ULU representative to the ceremony in his place, though a ULU staff member did attend.
In an attempt to reify student opinion at Holloway, a strongly-worded motion was proposed by The Orbital’s Deputy Editor Alex Pegler at the General Meeting on Tuesday 13 November to ‘condemn Daniel Cooper…for his decision’. The motion was seconded by Insanity’s Station Manager and Head of Marketing, Philip Nutter and Sally Harris respectively. However, no vote was reached, and instead the issue passed to a campus-wide referendum on the suggestion of Non-BUCS Student Activites Coordinator, Jordan Schiller.
The last referendum held by SURHUL was two years ago, asking students for their official support behind a lecturers’ strike. Although that referendum did not make quoracy (the minimum number of votes), the motion was passed in the following General Meeting and the quorum has since been dropped. Despite the controversy this issue has sparked, SU sources anticipate voter turnout of less than 10%.The referendum was preceded by an Emergency GM on Friday 16 November, which saw both sides of the debate ardent but largely entrenched. The proposing side claimed ‘99% of people’ would support the motion, though The Founder’s exit poll (above) puts the figure of students just under 60%. Demonstrating how this issue has internally divided the SU, halfway through the EGM Student Trustee Oliver Rushby proposed a vote of no confidence in the Union Chair, Joe Rayment, on the grounds of bias. However, it was promptly shot down.
Rushby’s accusation stemmed from Rayment having been outspoken in his online opposition to Cooper, but such online fervour has been less appreciated during General Meetings; less than two hours after the meeting, Rayment released a statement entitled ‘Why I regret the hashtag and why I support the critics of the General Meeting’, following recent articles in both this publication (Vol 7 Issue 2) and The Orbital regarding the lack of respect for opinions and even bullying in the ‘safe space’ of GMs, particularly on Twitter. This is the latest in a string of incidents that raise questions over the online responsibilities of students and their representatives.
Since the EGM, on the 16 November the emphatically-titled petition ‘Defend Daniel Cooper! Defend the Right to Criticise War and Militarism!’ was launched on Cooper’s blog, and a letter defending Cooper’s decision has also been written and signed by twenty-four RHUL History professors and teachers, including the Head of Department Dr. Sarah Ansari.