The long-running battle of the sexes in one of Britain's last remaining bastions of male power is about come to an end. The ultra-traditional United Oxford and Cambridge University Club in Pall Mall has changed its rules to ensure women gain entry to a club which for 178 years has barred them from even using the front stairs. While 40 per cent of Oxbridge graduates are female, only a non-voting, associate member status is granted to women.
Results of a worldwide postal ballot show members "overwhelmingly" in favour of changing the voting rules which have effectively prevented women achieving full membership.
Of the 3,500 worldwide members, 2,412 voted in the ballot, 2,087 in favour of resolution one and 2,054 in favour of resolution two.
Dr David Butler, the Oxford psephologist and television pollster who led the way for the mass resignation of all but four Oxbridge college heads last February, welcomed the news. "Now, thank god, it seems to be virtually the end of the story and good news for sane, sensible people. In principle I would be delighted to rejoin.
Among the dissidents were: Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, Chancellor of Oxford, two Vice-Chancellors, the former diplomat Sir Crispin Tickell, the social scientist Lord Dahrendorf, and other academics. Those who chose not to back the women included Lord St John of Fawsley, Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. The Duke of Edinburgh, though kept informed, was not asked for his ballot.
In 1993 members voted 3-1 in favour of accepting women on equal terms but, under the rules operating until this week, this did not constitute a majority. The earliest possible date for another ballot was 1998.
This week's changes mean that the interval between ballots on altering a fundamental qualification for membership has been reduced from five to two years (resolution one), and the majority needed in a postal ballot to approve such an alteration is two-thirds of the members actually voting rather than 50 per cent of all members eligible to vote (resolution two).