Box 18A

Ives collection

Materials deposited by Keith Ives, a key figure in the Liberal group on the Students’ Council at Essex, and thus a frequent object of attack and ridicule from the Left. In the archival box, the materials below are for the most part somewhat indiscriminately divided between two unmarked folders, one blue and one of clear plastic, and the categorisations here were created for the web archive.

Alongside a selection of key documents from the May 1968 campus events, many handwritten or annotated by Ives, this box includes a significant quantity of materials relating to the debates and maneuvering around Students’ Council reform in the spring-summer of 1968. The key conflict in this long-running struggle over the constitution and functioning of the Council was between students who favoured amending the existing system to base it on ‘representative constituencies’, and more radical proponents of a form of direct democracy that became known as ‘Rule by General Meeting’ (RBGM).

The selection of documents below indicate something of the complexity and storminess of a process that only intensified around a major referendum on Council reform in the spring of 1968. In part, credit for this must be given to Ives himself for including in his collection some documents from the radical camp, in particular a number of issues of The Spark. This Socialist Society bulletin provides an unabashedly partisan running commentary on his role and performance, accompanying the flyers and circulars issuing from both sides below.

Taken together, these documents provide some important contextual materials for the May 1968 campus events at Essex, and the impassioned debates over Council reform certainly convey something of the dynamic ferment of the period. At the same time, the series of General Meetings and ‘Free University’ sessions during those events may be seen as an ad hoc attempt to implement precisely the model of direct democracy envisaged by the radical left at Essex (and elsewhere) at this moment.

The box further holds a pair of documents relating to the campaign against the war in Biafra from December 1968 (see also Box 15/Disturbances, Box 16/Global campaigns). At this point, Ives and his supporters managed to frustrate calls from the radical students at Essex for a strike in support of the campaign, for which Ives was heavily lambasted. Chronologically, the selection below is bookended by the inaugural issue of the Liberal Union newsletter, from January 1967, and a grim inscription by Ives on the proceedings of a conference on students he attended in February 1969.

May 1968 campus events

  • Handwritten notes for a speech (undated, likely early in the w/c 13.05.68), urging adoption of an amendment by Brian Downie to a motion from David Triesman, and ‘immediate and responsible action through existing recognised channels’.
  • List of motions passed at General Meeting (13.05.68), including one of Ives’ own, to request legal advice about the handling of the rustications, and even push for an interim injunction if necessary and possible.
  • Memo to Senate (14.05.68) from Liberals Keith Ives and Brian Downie in advance of meeting on Wednesday 15th, outlining principal student grievances and reassuring that the overwhelming majority of students reject attempts to make political capital out of the situation on the part of ‘extremists’; nonetheless, Senate is warned, the extremists will gain some traction if their meeting doesn’t take students’ concerns seriously (copy also in Box 17/1968).
  • Senate Statement (16.05.68), with extensive annotations (clean copies in Box 14/Internal Documents Ref 43, Box 17/May 1968).
  • Notes for speech to General Meeting (17.05.68), responding to Senate’s perceived backing of Sloman.
  • List of motions passed at General Assembly (20.05.68) for Committee of Enquiry actions regarding Lord Alport and Lord Butler, and their comments in the press about Communist Party infiltration on campus. Motions proposed by Ives and ‘Carried unanimously (one vote against)’; see also Box 14/Internal Documents Ref 52).

Materials on Students’ Council reform, spring-summer 1968

  • The Spark #5 (22.02.68) offers an account of two recent General Meetings, as well as a final Council meeting at which Ives’ group managed to keep its constituency system on the slate at the forthcoming referendum on Council reform.
  • The Spark #7 (05.03.68), ‘Future of the General Meeting System’, signed ‘N.A.S.’ (Nigel Swingler). Having lost a referendum on RBGM, Swingler sees a glimmer of hope in the implicit appeal to student apathy by the “Wyvern”-Ives group. This issue also features an attack on the Leslie editorship of Wyvern (‘the mouthpiece of a small group of extreme conservatives’, hostile to demonstrations in general), and the announcement of a trial attempt at a series of Sociology Society seminars.
  • Appeal from Ives (undated – ‘Friday’ – either end of Spring term or early Summer 1968) to all members of Students’ Council ‘that want the new system to work’ to attend a meeting the following Monday, in advance of another one ‘next Wednesday’. The idea is that, by the time of the Wednesday meeting, the proponents of ‘sane discussion’ won’t feel intimidated by the other major group on Council, those Ives describes as ‘dead-set on completely wrecking the system (a.k.a. ‘”Rentamob”’).
  • ‘How Ives Won’ (Nigel Swingler). Account with some detail about the Students’ Council meeting (18.03.68) at which Ives’ group managed to push through both the Constituency system and a timetable for the forthcoming elections that, its detractors asserted, was drastically foreshortened.
  • ‘Some points against rule by General Meeting and in favour of Representative Bodies’ (undated, likely Spring-Summer although possibly Autumn term 1968). Page circulated in the wake of Students’ Council vote not to accept the RBGM system as passed at a prior General Assembly. An opening paragraph explains that the document was offered as a platform for contributions from both sides of the debate, and that only the anti-RBGM side responded.
  • The Spark #10 (08.05.68) ‘Reprieve for General Meeting Democracy – Ives Loses Support’. Unattributed report on remarkable turnarounds: Tony Frazer (‘Ives’ lieutenant’) defeated in vote for Council chair and Ives presented with a petition removing him from office (petition subsequently questioned and declared invalid). Also a motion by Colin Rogers for a General Meeting on May 9th giving students, in the eyes of the author, their first opportunity to amend the Ives Constitution ‘imposed by Senate’ at the end of the Spring term. (Note also on p. 2 Lee Calcraft’s ‘Porton – and Public Health in Reverse’).

Material on Biafra campaign, December 1968

  • ‘An Appeal to the Entire University. A Demand to the Vice Chancellor’ (December 1968). Statement by students on the crisis in Biafra, denouncing the UK Government as complicit in genocide, and demanding the immediate cessation of arms trading with the Nigerian Government; also demands the Vice Chancellor endorse the statement, threatening to push for a two-day strike and direct action if he does not.
  • Caricature of ‘Gowon’s friend Keith Ives’ identifying itself as ‘Red Letter “Know your enemy” series no 1’; possibly p. 2 of December 1968 Red Letter (‘Ives Fucks Biafra Campaign’), of which the lead article ends with the suggestion that all who agree ‘look at the poster on the back and display it in a conspicuous place, or preferably pin it on Ives’ arse.’

See also Box 15/Disturbances and Box 16/Global campaigns for more on activism protesting the Biafra war.


  • What’s Left #1 (January 1967), inaugural monthly Liberal Union newsletter.
  • ‘Students and Universities: Report of a Conference at Ditchley Park, 7-10 February 1969’, by I.M. Herrman, with inscription by Essex delegate Ives.