Outrage over the removal of a portrait of the Queen from an Oxford college common room was sparked by a vote in which a little over a dozen people participated.
Members of the Magdalen College Middle Common Room (MCR), which is made up of 200 or so graduate students, voted to remove the picture from their common room.
Staff at the college have since have received “threatening messages” after a government minister hit out at the students, in comments which were quickly backed up by Boris Johnson.
Barrister Dinah Rose, president of Magdalen College, Oxford, has defended students’ right to “free speech and political debate” as she urged people against issuing threats to those at the centre of the row.
Her plea came after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson branded the move “simply absurd”. His stance is backed by the prime minister, according to a No 10 spokesman.
‘A lot did not attend’
But, TLE can reveal, just ten people voted to remove the Queen’s portrait – with four abstentions, and nobody voting against.
In a statement, Mark Blandford-Baker – Home Bursar of Magdalen College – said: “I am told it was 10 for, 4 abstentions, none against. The MCR is about 200+ strong so presumably a lot did not attend.”
Political website Guido Fawkes reported that the motion was launched to make members “feel welcome”, with one student said to have commented “patriotism and colonialism are not really separable”.
Both the Daily Mail and Daily Express splashed the story on their front pages.
Rose, who was appointed president of Magdalen College last year, tweeted: “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.”
In a series of tweets, she emphasised that the students are not representative of the college, but added: “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 concluded: “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.”
On Tuesday evening, Williamson tweeted: “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.”
‘Student union politics’
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick called the row “student union politics”, but he said he is “proud” to have a portrait of the Queen in his office.
He told BBC Breakfast on Wednesday: “I’m a huge fan and supporter of Her Majesty the Queen, I think we are incredibly lucky to live in a country with a head of state of her stature.
“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.”
In a statement, Matthew Katzman – the Magdalen MCR president – said: “The action was taken after a discussion of the purpose of such a space, and it was decided that the room should be a welcoming, neutral place for all members regardless of background, demographic, or views.
“The royal family is on display in many areas of the college, and it was ultimately agreed that it was an unnecessary addition to the common room.
“The views of the MCR do not reflect the views of Magdalen College, and the aesthetic decisions made by the voting members of its committee do not equate to a statement on the Queen. Indeed, no stance was taken on the Queen or the royal family — the conclusion was simply that there were better places for this print to be hung.”