RESIGNATIONS REVEALED: Is the Union in meltdown?
The Cambridge Union has been plunged into crisis after four senior officials quit their roles before week 2 of Michaelmas term
The resignations are believed to be related to the controversial Julian Assange referendum, while a picture has also emerged of a pernicious atmosphere consuming the organisation.
After a tumultuous week at the Union, The Tab can exclusively reveal:
- Three senior figures, two of whom have been voting members of the Union’s governing body, have resigned from their positions within the space of a few days.
- Union officials held ‘six hours of crisis talks’ on Friday before deciding to press ahead with the Assange referendum.
- On Friday evening, Co-Debate Officer James Riseley resigned from his position.
- On Saturday lunchtime, Women’s Officer Helen Dallas quit after opposing the Union’s referendum on moral grounds.
- Publicity Officer and last year’s treasurer Jack Lewy quit on Tuesday after becoming disenchanted with the Union’s pernicious internal politics.
- It follows Alex Eadie’s decision to resign from the publicity team before the start of term.
- Senior Union officials reject crisis talk but admit “steps must be taken to improve morale in the coming days.”
The resignation of Women’s Officer Helen Dallas has been triggered by the Union’s referendum over guest speaker and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange but the other departures mark the culmination of rising tensions over recent weeks.
If the members vote in favour of the Assange talk, the Union will host the Australian journalist on November 11. It is proposed that he will speak to the chamber via video-link.
Dallas is understood to have resigned as she is opposed to the possibility of offering a platform to Assange – a man who still faces allegations of rape and is yet to go on trial.
Assange is one the most polemical figures around. He has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012, where he faces arrest if he leaves. Assange would be extradited to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sex assaults.
Assange fears that if he stands trial in Sweden, he will be extradited to the USA to stand trial over the controversial records published by WikiLeaks.
The referendum is believed to have been decided by the Union committee over the course of an extraordinary six hours on Friday afternoon.
Following an emotional day, which involved heated discussions, it was announced that an online referendum will be held on October 22.
The question reads: “Do you agree that the Cambridge Union should host Julian Assange via video link on November 11th at 7pm?”
It has also been suggested to The Tab that Dallas was considered as one of those who might interview Assange should the event go ahead. The Union made no denial of this on Saturday afternoon, simply stating that “all options were explored.” The Tab attempted to contact Dallas on Saturday afternoon but have received no reply as of yet.
Oliver Mosley, this term’s President, did however have this to say: “Many suggestions were made to make the hypothetical event as balanced a forum as possible to ensure marginalised voices were heard, including asking the CUSU Women’s Officer to ask the first question. However, these were all suggestions, and no Officer or member would ever be asked to do anything they were not completely comfortable with doing.”
Still, Dallas found the position of Women’s Officer untenable regardless of how the event was conducted and Mosley admits he has no intention of finding a replacement Women’s Officer. He stated that the role “will be filled in by the team as a whole, in conjunction with the Lent Women’s Officer.”
Dallas’ departure was preceded by the resignation of James Riseley, the co-debating officer, on Friday night. It is believed that he sat in on the meetings regarding Assange throughout the day. Riseley declined to comment on the reasons for his departure.
Co-Publicity Officer Jack Lewy also quit on Thursday. The Union insist that Lewy’s decision was unrelated to the Assange affair but sources suggest that last year’s treasurer was no longer enjoying the Union as a working environment. Speaking to those in and around the Union over the past twenty-four hours, it is clear that this is becoming a recurring sentiment. Lewy’s publicity colleague Alex Eadie decided to resign before the term started.
Those leading figures still in place at the Union say that they intend to “reach out” to those who have resigned in the coming days, while they also accept that work needs to be done to “restore morale”.
Nonetheless, in a statement to The Tab, Mosley brushed “the problem of some officers resigning” under the carpet, framing it as “a natural part of running a large student-operated organisation at the start of a new year”.
That “the referendum was passed unanimously” shows “we have come to a good resolution as a team”, he claimed (apparently forgetting Dallas’ resignation).
Mosley did accept there is “work to be done to minimise the resulting tensions” and it is understood more socials will be arranged in the coming week to raise the Union from the wreckage of a traumatic start to the term.
As always, it seems Julian Assange has exposed divisions right in the heart of the establishment.