Queen's portrait removed after vote by Oxford University students

  • Published
Portrait of the QueenImage source, William and Georgina Hustler/www.npg.org.uk
Image caption,
The removed portrait was a colourised print based on a photograph taken by Dorothy Wilding in 1952

Students at one of Oxford University's colleges have voted to remove a portrait of the Queen from their common room.

Members of Magdalen College Middle Common Room (MCR) deemed the image a symbol of "recent colonial history".

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson branded the move as "simply absurd".

The president of Magdalen said the decision was one for the students, not the college. The BBC has contacted the students' group for comment.

According to the minutes of Monday's MCR committee meeting, the motion was tabled in an effort to make the common room more welcoming and to recognise that "for some students, depictions of the monarch and the British monarchy represent recent colonial history".

The vote ended with 10 in favour of removing the portrait, two against and five abstentions.

One member, whose name was withheld in the minutes, said "effectively 'cancelling' the Queen" sent out a "dire message that is sure to enrage", while another said: "We are not capable of cancelling the Queen. This is about our communal space and making people feel welcome."

Image caption,
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was angered by the decision to remove the picture

Barrister Dinah Rose, who was appointed president of Magdalen College last year, emphasised that the students were not representative of the college, but supported their right to "free speech and political debate".

In a series of tweets, she said: "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."

She finished: "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."

'Student union politics'

She added the photo would be "safely stored".

Ms Rose said people had been "sending obscene and threatening messages to college staff" and urged them to consider whether that was the "best way to show your respect for the Queen".

Political website Guido Fawkes reported the motion was launched to make members "feel welcome", with one student said to have commented "patriotism and colonialism are not really separable".

The education secretary, who tweeted his thoughts on Tuesday evening, said: "Oxford University students removing a picture of the Queen is simply absurd.

"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 and respect around the world."

Image source, University of Oxford
Image caption,
The president of Magdalen says the decision was one for the students, not the college

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told BBC Breakfast it was "student union politics".

He added: "I have a portrait of the Queen on my office wall in my government department and I'm proud to do so.

"I wouldn't want anyone to disrespect her out of ignorance in this way but I don't think that we should waste too much time on student union politics."

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham told Nick Ferrari on LBC radio: "These kind of gestures are getting a bit out of hand.

'Bit of respect'

"We should always respect the Queen but particularly now given things that have happened in the last few months.

"Let's get a sense of proportion and a bit of respect. People can air their views but those kind of gestures are divisive actually - they just divide people, and I don't think they achieve much, to be honest."

On its website, Magdalen College Middle Common Room described itself as "one of the biggest graduate communities of the traditional Oxford Colleges".

It states: "Our graduates come from many different countries throughout the world, and have diverse interests, academic and otherwise.

"The MCR forms an integral part of the Magdalen graduate experience - not only do we organise social and cultural events for students so that we can make the utmost out of our time in Oxford, but we also provide a network of support for graduate life in representing the concerns of students to the college."

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