Time to write about some things that happened in the second half of the term just completed that might be of interest to friends from home who read this blog. Secondly, the housing crisis a few weeks ago. Here’s an e-mail I sent round all undergraduates on 23rd November:

Okay so people seem to be pretty confused about what it was that went wrong with the main site housing ballot this week and the reason why we’re having a EGM, and to what level this is my fault (and, accordingly, to what extent I’m a twat). Here’s an explanation so that people are better informed at the GM, so PLEASE READ IT.

In Hilary 2010 the then Dr WHOs brought a motion to change how the ballot worked, and Seb Fassam (who has now graduated) brought an amendment to change some more things. Seb’s amendment on the night included the principles behind the ballot change, and he promised to write up a detailed procedure explaining how to do the ballot, and e-mail this round the JCR. He did this the morning following the GM, and no-one disagreed with what he had written. I’ve attached Seb’s document.

When Alex and Alice ran the ballot this week, they essentially followed Seb’s procedure. The thing that they got wrong was that they interpreted the word ‘college’ to mean ‘main site or Jowett Walk’ when it should have only meant ‘main site’—this meant that some people who should have received an advantage in the ballot didn’t get this advantage because of this misinterpretation of ‘college’. So the ballot was illegal.

The reason that Alex and Alice made this mistake was that the standing orders on the JCR website were either ambiguous, or hadn’t been updated to include the result of Seb’s motion, or both: it’s not quite clear what was wrong. And secondly, Seb’s document detailing the procedure was in a folder in the JCR office but it wasn’t on the website, so Alex and Alice didn’t have it. This is the part that is my fault. When Seb’s procedure was passed it was my responsibility to update the website, and clearly I didn’t do this properly.

At the EGM on Thursday the motion being brought basically just re-instates Seb’s procedure into Standing Orders, getting rid of the old, confusing text. Then we redo the ballot with the correct rules. That’s all.

A further complication is that it seems that the JCR Committee at the time of Seb’s amendment didn’t pass the new procedure through College’s exec committee, a fact which has only just been realised by both College and the JCR. This has to happen for the ballot to go ahead, so we need to run the policy we are re-instating on Thursday through them.

There is only one more exec meeting this term and it is on Wednesday, which means that the GM on Thursday isn’t really an appropriate place to change our balloting policy through amendments. If we did this, the new policy would have to go for approval again, but this couldn’t happen until the beginning of next term.

But then the main site ballot and the Jowett ballot both get pushed back until next term, which would mean that if Jowett is oversubscribed, those who don’t get in will have even less time to find houses. So if you want to change the ballot procedure away from Seb’s scheme, please please please bring a motion to do that next term rather than this week.

Hope that’s clear, feel free to reply with any questions.


I think that explains what went on and how we resolved it, but I should explain my use of ‘twat’: following on from when a legendary former committee member locked the DVD player and TV remote in a cupboard and then forgot the combination to the padlock and was thus put in Standing Policy as a twat, the JCR President & Secretary said they were going to do the same to me; my first reaction was amusement. My view of it was always just amusement. But a lot of people in Balliol were unhappy and saw it as bullying. Over the course of a couple of days, the President and Secretary received e-mail after e-mail from students and tutors alike, including people on their years abroad who were only seeing it all by e-mail, complaining that I was being victimised.

The next day someone who lost to me in the recent JCR elections for a semi-serious position started gathering signatures for a vote of no confidence. I signed it. The point of the twat thing and the no con was to bring any anger at me into the open, rather than seething underground. There was no expectation I would actually get no con’d.

Several of my friends got very upset over the two motions, saying that I was just saying I was okay with it, just playing along, that I shouldn’t be okay with it and that my reputation among non-JCR people would be seriously damaged. While I appreciated the concern, as I told them, I felt like I was being seriously patronised. I genuinely didn’t mind about the motions, but people still weren’t happy. It was seen as a JCR in-joke that shouldn’t have been going on because ‘twat”s special meaning (the TV remote guy) isn’t well known outside of those involved in the JCR.

In the end an amendment was brought to remove most of the bad stuff about me (an amendment I voted in opposition to) and it passed overwhelmingly, lots and lots of people complaining at the GM about how I was being blamed when it wasn’t actually my fault at all (it wasn’t, really).

It is difficult to say whether this was okay. The JCR is only as successful as it is, the very last one with any bite left really, because it toes close to the line, so I suppose there will always be divisive things like this from time to time. Glad housing got sorted out though.