Union admits failure to include Women's Officer in Assange talks

Image credit: Yao Tong

The President of the Cambridge Union Society has admitted in an exclusive interview with The Cambridge Student that the Women's Officer "left because she didn’t feel like her voice was heard at the Union".

He also hit out at “unfair, ridiculous, over the top, and frankly insulting” press coverage of the decision to hold a referendum on the hosting of Julian Assange.

The comments follow an article published in The Tab which described the Union as being “in meltdown”, and having “a pernicious atmosphere consuming the organisation”.

Oliver Mosley and Charlotte Ivers, respectively President and Treasurer of the Society, and Returning Officers in the coming referendum, admitted in the interview that they could have done more to include former Women’s Officer Helen Dallas in discussions about Julian Assange.

Denying The Tab’s accusations that six hours of crisis talks were held on Friday, Mosley clarified that the discussions were held “over several days. We don’t sit in rooms for six hours, because people drop off.”

However, editor-in-chief of The Tab Luke Heppenstall-West commented: “Nothing in our article is gossip, any statement made has been verified by a source within the Union, who we have not mentioned for their own wellbeing.

“The only reason for us not to publish the story, as such, is that it would have damaged our relationship with the Union – we were told by a high-ranking official that running it would end The Union’s "preferential treatment" of us as a paper.

“We do not feel as though we have misconstrued the truth, nor have we intruded upon anybody’s privacy. We found an interesting story and reported it. If we hadn’t, why are we here?”

With regards to the resignation of the Union’s women’s officer, Mosley commented: “When she said she didn’t feel her voice had been heard in those meetings [on the issue of Julian Assange], she was completely right – because she wasn’t there.”

The Union has confirmed that Helen Dallas was not present at the meetings because she is not a member of the Union’s standing committee, the voting members of the Union’s executive comprising the ten elected officers, the appointed vice president, and the appointed debating officers.

Mosley stated that a key was that “no-one ever thought” to include the women’s officer in the talks on hosting Julian Assange. “We could have brought her in earlier, with absolutely no problem.

“No one ever thought that would be a sensible idea, and that was a problem. I think Helen felt that she wasn’t listened to enough generally.”

Ivers, however, disagreed: “I wouldn’t want to speak for Helen, but having [spoken] to her a huge amount over the past few days, I have no indication that up until this point she was seeing problems with her role in the Union or otherwise.”

Helen Dallas is not available for comment on whether or not she had issue with her position in the Union prior to her exclusion from the talks on Assange.

Union Treasurer Charlotte Ivers added: “Mosley could not have gone further to ensure that women’s voices were heard and were taken seriously.

“No one was shouted down, no one was told off for being too emotional, or not emotional enough. I was proud of my friend for that.

“Having been in that room – women’s voices were heard in that room. There could have been more women’s voices, always, but I do not feel like at any point I personally was silenced in that room.”

The Tab’s accusations that “the resignations are believed to be related to the controversial Julian Assange referendum” were also denied.

Mosley described the resignations of Alex Eadie, Jack Lewy (former Publicity Officers) and James Riseley (former co-Debating Officer) as “completely” unrelated to the Assange issue.

“Two of those resignations were before the Assange decision was even told to them”, Mosley stated.

However, James Riseley was one of the 13 members of the Union’s standing committee present in the meeting on Julian Assange, and resigned after the decision was made.

Charlotte Ivers emphasised that his resignation “has frankly been brewing for a long time”, and though the motive behind his resignation cannot be disclosed for personal reasons, Mosley confirmed that “the quote [on his resignation letter] was ‘reasons external to the Assange decision’”.

While The Tab has claimed that “sources close to the Union” suggested “frustration with internal politics may have been a factor in his decision”, Charlotte Ivers condemned “spurious comments that are attributed to very dubious sources who frankly could be anyone from my mum to someone who lived on the same corridor as me in first year.

“If you want to look at sources close to the Union, there are 50 people on our [wider] committee[s]. By the time you’ve found everyone who’s close to each of those people, you’ve got a significant proportion of Cambridge. Pretty much everyone is a source close to the Union.”

Alex Eadie, Jack Lewy, and James Riseley are not available for press enquiries.

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