An Unparalleled Reputation
The Union attracts figures from all walks of life and continues to maintain its unparalleled reputation for international guests and speakers. A number of British Prime Ministers have been Members or Officers of the Union: Tony Blair, Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Harold Macmillan (Lord Stockton), Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, H.H Asquith, the Marquess of Salisbury, the Earl of Rosebery, and William Ewart Gladstone.
Many others have been Cabinet Ministers, including in recent times such figures as Lord Hailsham, Tony Benn, Gerald Kaufman, Lord Heseltine, William Hague, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson.
The Political World and the Internationally Famous
Perhaps the most unique feature of the Oxford Union is the opportunity members have to meet, listen and to question some of the world’s most famous and interesting people in our renowned ‘speaker meetings’. The Union attracts the most well-renowned speakers from all walks of life and especially in the world of politics: guests have included the US Presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and the UK Prime Ministers Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and Sir John Major. Other international leaders and notable figures include the former US Presidential nominee Senator John McCain, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, former New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, the Reverend Ian Paisley Yasser Arafat, Russian politician and former finance minister Grigory Yavlinsky, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, US Attorney General and Senator Robert Kennedy, former speaker of the House of Representatives and Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Last year alone, our guests included former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, former Home Secretary David Blunkett, Attorney-General Dominic Grieve QC, Home Secretary Theresa May, US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina.
Many of the world’s greatest musicians have come to the Union, including Lang Lang, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Jon Bon Jovi, Barry White, Dizzee Rascal, and in the last couple of years, Incubus, Yoko Ono, Newton Faulkner, Hanson, the Noisettes and pop superstar Shakira. Many choose to perform live to our members: Katie Melua, Nigel Kennedy, Billy Joel and the Mystery Jets have all given performances in the Union. Last year Ne-Yo, Kate Nash, Tinie Tempah, Imogen Heap and Snow Patrol all gave impromptu live performancs in our debating chamber. The legendary Michael Jackson chose the Oxford Union in 2001 to make his first public speech in over a decade and launched his new charity here.
Leading Figures from the World of Sport
Sport is an important part of college life in Oxford, and this is reflected in the guests we invite to speak. Over the last two years alone, speakers have included Steve Redgrave, Chris Eubank, Dwain Chambers, Sven Goran Eriksson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Geoffrey Boycott, Imran Khan, David Coulthard, Geoff Hurst and the legendary Sir Roger Bannister. In the last eighteen months we were visited by Kapil Dev, Sir Jackie Stewart, Gianfranco Zola, Sol Campbell and Britain’s greatest Paralympic athlete, Tanni Grey-Thompson.
Since Albert Einstein’s visit to the Union in the 1920s, discussions about science have also been a regular part of the agenda with Professor Stephen Hawking, Lord Robert Winston and Dr Jane Goodall all having spoken. Recently, science has started to take an even more prominent place with biologist Richard Dawkins, debating creationist AE Wilder-Smith during the Huxley Memorial Debate and Ben Goldacre, Jim Al-Khalili, Simon Singh and Baroness Greenfield all speaking this year.
Stars from Film & Theatre
From the silver screen to the starriest stage or music concert, the Oxford Union has played host to the greatest. In recent years, we have heard from Ben Affleck, Pierce Brosnan, Michael Douglas, Martin Sheen, Natalie Portman, Kim Cattrall, Bill Nighy, Patrick Stewart, Ewan MacGregor, Matthew Perry, Zoë Wanamaker, Terry Jones, Dame Judi Dench, Stephen Fry, Jeremy Clarkson, Jon Culshaw, Michael Barrymore, Phil Jupitus, David Walliams, Russell Brand, Bruce Forsyth and Sir Roger Moore. In the last eighteen months alone, we welcomed two famous Baywatch stars, Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff and we were also able to listen to both Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Ben Kingsley in a matter of weeks; six months later we were humbled to host Johnny Depp who was greeted with a packed out chamber of eager fans. Such events give members an opportunity to hear, question and challenge the speakers in a relaxed atmosphere. Few other places can offer students the chance to meet the real person behind the famous face.
Arts and Journalism
Art and literature are always well represented. Philip Pullman, Salman Rushdie, PD James, Lord Melvyn Bragg, Louis de Bernières, Niall Ferguson, Dr Ian Banks, Anthony Horowitz, Jack Vettriano, Tracy Emin, Gerald Scarfe, Vikram Seth, Peter Hitchens, Ziauddin Sardar and Jung Chang have thrilled, amused and surprised our members. Many speakers representing the world of journalism have also come, including Katie Adie, Jon Snow, Nick Robinson, John Sergeant, Andrew Neill and the editor of the Spectator, Fraser Nelson. Last year alone, the famous publicist Max Clifford, the legendary Sir Michael Parkinson and the former editor-in-chief of The Observer, Will Hutton, upheld the Union’s reputation for representing the greatest figures of journalism.
Debating The Issues of Today
The Union was founded as a debating society, and debates are still its lifeblood. They remain at the cutting edge of contentious issues. Sir Edward Heath & Norman Tebbit have clashed over the dispatch boxes on Europe, as have Michael Heseltine & Michael Foot on the record of the Conservatives. Last year David Cameron shared his vision for a new Britain. One of the most famous motions, ‘This House will under no circumstances fight for King and Country’ sparked off a national controversy in the press when it was passed by an overwhelming majority in 1933. When the Union held a forum on the Irish peace process, David Trimble, John Hume and Reverend Ian Paisley all sat around the same table, taking questions from Union members.The Oxford Union remains the foremost platform for national and international debate. Although public figures welcome an invitation to speak at the Union, they defend their views on equal terms with any member who cares to challenge them.
Speakers from around the world
Many politicians have spoken at the Union about Ireland and its problems. In 1888, Lord Randolph Churchill spoke on the issue of Home Rule. In 1962, the Reverend Ian Paisley provoked uproar with his attack on Catholicism during a debate.
Others who have spoken on Ireland over the years include Austen Chamberlain, W.B. Yeats and Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Prominent politicans from the Irish Republic who have addressed the Union have included Prime Ministers Liam Cosgrave, Albert Reynolds, John Bruton and Bertie Ahern.
There is also a strong American tradition: Presidents Reagan, Nixon and Carter have addressed the Society. Two of the greatest figures of 1960s America spoke at the Union shortly before their tragic deaths Malcolm X in 1964, and Senator Robert Kennedy in 1967. More recently, Henry Kissinger, Vice-President Dan Quayle, the American Ambassador and Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, have visited.