Somerville student, Stuart Webber (English Literature, 2013), is the third Somervillian to become President of the almost 200 year-old prestigious debating society after Rob Harrington (PPE,1994) and Sam Gyimah (PPE, 1995) who both held the role in 1997. Yet, unlike Harrington, Gyimah and many Oxford Union Presidents, Stuart is not a PPE student and isn’t looking to have a career in politics.
“I always get asked how long I have been planning this, as if I had been since I was 13 or something. I had never even heard of the Union before I came to Oxford. My friend suggested getting involved but at that point I didn’t want to because it seemed like too much stress. After I saw a couple of really interesting speakers though, I decided I wanted to run.”
Stuart, who is from East Finchley in London, studied history French and maths at A-Level at East Finchley Highgate . When applying to Oxford, he was torn between reading English and history but ultimately decided he loved English more.
He was Secretary to the Union from October 2014 – where he was in charge of taking minutes at meetings, hosting the guest speakers and overseeing the Union’s social events – until December when he was elected as Vice President, a position he held until June 2015. As Vice President he organised the Union’s speakers. The highlight, he says, was acquiring Morgan Freeman to speak – a hugely popular event with over 3000 people listed as attending on Facebook.
“It was a really long process that started in July, ended in November and involved dozens of 1am phone calls to LA trying to get him to come. I thought he wasn’t going to but then, at around this time last year, I got an email that said, ‘Stuart I hope you’re sitting down’. That was all it said, but then I got an email straight afterwards that just said, ‘Morgan’s coming’.”
In his eight weeks as President, Stuart’s main goals are to acquire the best speakers, try and encourage more Somervillians to be involved in the Union, reduce costs of Union membership, make the Union Living Wage accredited and hold more charity events at the Union.
“I’d really like to get Somerville more involved in the Union. Everyone makes jokes about how far we are from the city centre but we’re not. Four out of the last seven Presidents have been from St John’s. Somerville has only ever had three and the first and last time was in 1997. Given there are three a year that is over 50 people and no one’s been from Somerville.”
Stuart also has a background in charity work, having worked for the Living Wage Foundation in his gap year, which inspired him to make the Union more active in charities. One of his greatest achievements in doing this, he says, was organising an event with England cricket captain, Andrew Strauss, which resulted in 72 people signing up to the British Bone Marrow Registry.
He has also tried to get more disabled speakers at the Union and organised Breaking Bad star RG Mittey to speak about his life with cerebral palsy and Warwick Davis, who spoke about what it’s like to be an actor with dwarfism.
“I hope most people say this but I feel like I’m part of the College more than I am part of the University. I absolutely love Somerville — it’s more chilled out, a bit more casual than the other colleges. Walking on the grass, for example, is a big thing. I think everyone’s got a lot of College pride here but not because we want to be better than everyone else – we want to win to win.”