A portrait of the Queen was removed from an Oxford college common room because the monarch represents “recent colonial history.”
Political website Guido Fawkes on Thursday reported that a student committee from the Middle Common Room (MCR) at Magdalen College, Oxford University voted to remove the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by a “substantial” margin, because “for some students depictions of the monarch and the British monarchy represent recent colonial history.”
The report quoted meeting minutes saying that some students argued that “patriotism and colonialism are not really separable,” and the proposal is not about “cancelling” the Queen, but about “making people feel welcome,” while another said that “effectively ‘cancelling’ the Queen and brandishing her a symbol of colonialism” would damage the reputation of the college and its students, and that a common room that doesn’t respect the cultural heritage of all nations “cannot claim to be inclusive.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the removal of the portrait is “simply absurd.”
“Oxford University students removing a picture of the Queen is simply absurd,” Williamson wrote on Twitter on Tuesday evening.
“She is the Head of State and a symbol of what is best about the UK. During her long reign she has worked tirelessly to promote British values of tolerance, inclusivity & respect around the world.”
In a string of tweets, Dinah Rose, the president of Magdalen College, said the MCR is a student organisation that makes its own decisions and doesn’t represent the college.
“The Middle Common Room is an organisation of graduate students. They don’t represent the College,” she wrote.
“A few years ago, in about 2013, they bought a print of a photo of the Queen to decorate their common room. They recently voted to take it down. Both of these decisions are their own to take, not the College’s.
“Magdalen strongly supports free speech and political debate, and the MCR’S right to autonomy.
“Maybe they’ll vote to put it up again, maybe they won’t. Meanwhile, the photo will be safely stored.”
Rose said that college staff have been receiving “obscene and threatening messages” after the story broke.
“Being a student is about more than studying. It’s about exploring and debating ideas. It’s sometimes about provoking the older generation. Looks like that isn’t so hard to do these days,” she wrote.
“So if you are one of the people currently sending obscene and threatening messages to the College staff, you might consider pausing, and asking yourself whether that is really the best way to show your respect for the Queen. Or whether she’d be more likely to support the traditions of free debate and democratic decision-making that we are keeping alive at Magdalen.”
Asked to comment on the incident, Housing, Communities, and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick, a self-professed fan of the Queen who has her portrait in his office, told the BBC that he “wouldn’t want anyone to disrespect her out of ignorance in this way,” but he doesn’t think “we should waste too much time” on student union politics.