How ironic that smartypants Oxford students are too dim to realise the Queen is a heroine of woke! Magdalen alumnus HARRY MOUNT says Her Majesty has done more to decolonise the Empire than anyone
No one expects institutions — particularly universities, their lecturers and students — to be rigidly conformist.
Indeed, university offers the time and space for students to explore different intellectual arguments and try on political positions for size.
My old college Magdalen, which now finds itself at the centre of a furious row over a portrait of the Queen, has been extremely radical in its long history and often fomented national debate.
In 1687, the Fellows of the College took on the king himself, James II. The college president had died and James II twice tried to force the Fellows to accept his choice of a replacement. When they refused, James II demanded they be expelled. The king’s behaviour sparked outrage across the country and the Fellows became heroes.
My old college Magdalen, which now finds itself at the centre of a furious row over a portrait of the Queen (pictured with Prince Philip in Tuvalu), has been extremely radical in its long history and often fomented national debate
Those heroic Fellows were taking a principled stance against a deeply unpopular king. They weren’t a group of easily offended, privately educated students who want to remove a picture of perhaps the most popular monarch this country has ever seen — and a respected figure globally — on utterly nonsensical grounds.
The latest example of kneejerk wokery that has exploded at Magdalen, where graduate students of the Middle Common Room (MCR) have voted to remove the portrait of the Queen, has got me thinking how stupid very clever people can sometimes be.
Magdalen is one of the top colleges at what has just been judged to be the second best university in the world, and yet the students’ sanctimonious reasoning reveals a level of woolly thinking that would have appalled my brilliant history and classics dons in the 1990s.
The latest example of kneejerk wokery that has exploded at Magdalen, where graduate students of the Middle Common Room (MCR) have voted to remove the portrait of the Queen, has got me thinking how stupid very clever people can sometimes be
Those students decided the 1952 print of the Queen was ‘unwelcoming’ because for some of them ‘depictions of the monarch and the British monarchy represent recent colonial history’. ‘Patriotism and colonialism are not really separable,’ one particularly bone-headed student is reported to have said after their meeting on Monday — attended by just 17 of 250 MCR members — when the decision was taken. Of course, the students should be free to get rid of the portrait if that is their wish. This is a free country and the vote followed a debate by an MCR committee which aired both sides of the argument, after which just ten voted in favour of removing it.
I believe the President of Magdalen, Dinah Rose QC, is right not to try to overturn their decision, despite the opprobrium of Oxford’s Chancellor, Lord Patten, who called it ‘offensive and obnoxiously ignorant’. But Lord Patten is right about the level of ignorance displayed.
Our Queen has, in effect, been a great decoloniser, presiding over the widespread withdrawal of the United Kingdom from its colonies in the 69 years she’s been on the throne.
The remaining Overseas Territories are desperately keen to remain British, while the 54 member states of the Commonwealth look on the Queen with great affection and want to stay in it.
That affection is mutual: the Commonwealth is extremely close to the Queen’s heart as the Mail’s Robert Hardman demonstrated in his revealing book, Queen Of The World.
Leading the charge against the Queen’s portrait at Magdalen is Matthew Katzman (pictured), president of the MCR and the 25-year-old privately educated son of an American multi-millionaire lawyer from Maryland
It is only a small minority of people who find our 95-year-old head of state objectionable.
Many of them come from the increasingly influential, highly-educated, well-off ‘woke brigade’ who will brook no argument other than their own.
Leading the charge against the Queen’s portrait at Magdalen is Matthew Katzman, president of the MCR and the 25-year-old privately educated son of an American multi-millionaire lawyer from Maryland. It was Katzman who pompously declared the MCR ‘room should be a welcoming, neutral place for all members, regardless of background, demographic or views’.
Well, Katzman must find walking around his college a deeply traumatising experience then if he can’t tolerate a royal portrait or two.
Since Magdalen was founded in 1458, the place has become rather full of them, and no doubt one or two will have presided over deeds and policies that are now questionable.
The college owns pictures of Elizabeth I and Prince Rupert (James I’s grandson). In pride of place in the college hall where Katzman eats his meals, there is some rare 16th-century panelling, with a sculpture of Henry VIII.
Since Magdalen (pictured) was founded in 1458, the place has become rather full of them, and no doubt one or two will have presided over deeds and policies that are now questionable
Just down the High Street from Magdalen, Katzman will come right up against Queen’s College, founded in 1341 in honour of Queen Philippa of Hainault, Edward III’s wife.
Oxford — one of the world’s greatest historical cities — is crammed with royal sculpture and art. So if any student is offended by royal references and finds them unwelcoming, they must spend every day feeling permanently outraged.
What has happened at Magdalen is typical of what’s happening in institutions all over the country.
That is particularly the case with the National Trust, whose chairman, Tim Parker, has just resigned after an attempt by a new protest group of Trust members, Restore Trust, to fight against the march of wokery within.
Elsewhere, great figures of history are at risk of being ‘cancelled’ because of tenuous links with slavery.
Winston Churchill’s home, Chartwell, was bizarrely included in the National Trust’s 115-page report last year, blacklisting 93 of its estates for their supposed slavery links. That report has since been exposed as littered with errors and sloppy thinking.
Last month, the University of Liverpool renamed Gladstone Hall (originally called after former prime minister William Gladstone) because his family benefited from slavery; while earlier this year Howden Junior School in Yorkshire replaced house names — called after Nelson, Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake — because of the supposed ‘despicable deeds’ of these nautical heroes.
During my time at Magdalen, when the Poll Tax was introduced in 1990, students gathered in the medieval cloisters and burnt their tax demands.
Tories were thin on the ground then — in a reflection of Churchill’s supposed line: ‘If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.’
I only knew of two other undergraduates who, like me, voted Conservative in the 1992 election: one was the son of a Tory MP; the other the son of a conservative writer.
That year, a friend sent me a Valentine’s Day card, saying, ‘True blue, baby, I love you’ — a line from the Madonna song True Blue, and a reference to my unusual politics.
But there was no malice in the card; no attempt to cancel me in that gentler pre-social media age that was so much more accepting of other people’s differences.
There were some more extreme aspects on the fringe of student politics, such as the motion in our JCR (the Junior Common Room for undergraduates) to stop buying the college newspapers from the local newsagent because, like practically all newsagents then, they also sold porn mags.
So yes, it is fine for students to be rebellious — even extreme on occasion. But not to be stupid or so cravenly subservient to the forces of woke.
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