The charity dinner boasted a party frontbencher as guest of honour and appeared perfect to reinforce the Oxford University Conservative Association’s status as a training ground for Cabinet ministers.
Instead, it has led to the 88-year-old society suffering the indignity of being stripped of its university recognition after the bill went unpaid.
The association, which counts Baroness Thatcher as its patron, has lost the right to use Oxford’s name after it failed to settle a £1,200 debt for the black-tie banquet, attended by the former defence secretary Dr Liam Fox.
The society, whose former members include five current Cabinet ministers, held the dinner for 32 in support of the Army Benevolent Fund at the Cavalry and Guards Club on Pall Mall in June 2009.
But despite the best efforts of military club to chase the £1,215.06 debt, it seems no one recalls who was meant to put the cheque in the post.
It has led to the proctors — the academics charged with enforcing Oxford’s rules — refusing to allow the association to register as an official university organisation.
The affair came to light after a five-month investigation into allegations of anti-Semitic behaviour at the association’s weekly Port and Policy events.
It was alleged that students sang a Nazi-themed drinking song and ridiculed members with working-class backgrounds. The proctors found no grounds for action in that regard.
But after an examination of club accounts and minutes, the Senior Proctor, Laurence Whitehead, found that the “financial and administrative officers of the Association did not reach the standards required of a recognised student club”.
Joe Cooke, a former president of the society, who blew the whistle on the affair, said: “This is the first time I can recall a university society has been banned out of sheer incompetence.”
Who was meant to pay the bill for the £35-a-head dinner, at which students enjoyed champagne and posed for photographs with the then shadow defence secretary, is unclear.
The night was organised by Max Lewis, then a chemistry student and now an investment banker at Rothschild.
The cash and cheques for the dinner were handed by attendees to George Farmer, the club’s social secretary and then a student at St Peter’s College.
He is the son of Michael Farmer, a City financier and Conservative Party donor and is now an analyst at Jefferies & Co investment bank.
He handed the cash and cheques to the club treasurer, Andrew Mason, then a chemistry student at University College who is now waiting to go to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.
Mr Lewis said on Friday night: “I was not an officer. This was OUCA’s event. I did not have access to the accounts. We had agreed beforehand it would be paid by the treasurer.”
He added: “I assumed it has all been paid. I am annoyed that officers of OUCA would act in such a careless way.”
Mr Mason said he placed the cheques in the club’s bank account and a bill for the event was sent to the society after he had retired as treasurer.
“The accounts for my term as treasurer were signed by the association’s executive and the senior member, and the university proctors were provided with a copy. No concerns were raised at any point and there is no evidence of any financial impropriety,” he said.
The bill was finally paid earlier this year.
Miles Coates, the current president of OUCA, said: “We inherited significant problems this academic year from our predecessors. It all began when I was at school, and it falls to me to deal with it now.”
He added that the club would make a £100 donation to a soldiers’ charity in recompense.
A spokesman for the University said no students would be disciplined and the proctors would advise the club on how to get itself re-registered at a later date.
From The telegraph