Current Affairs

Magdalen MCR controversially removes photograph of the Queen

A decision by Magdalen College’s Middle Common Room to remove an image of the Queen has sparked controversy.

The right-wing news blog Guido Fawkes reported yesterday that they had received minutes of a Magdalen MCR meeting which determined to remove the Queen’s portrait on the basis that she represented “recent colonial history”. The blog quotes one student as saying: “patriotism and colonialism are not really separable”.

Matthew Katzmann, the MCR’s President, commented to The Daily Mail: “The Magdalen College MCR voted yesterday to remove an inexpensive print of the queen that was hung in the common room a few years ago (a motion I brought forward in my role as MCR President as I do all motions raised in a sub-committee). It is being stored securely and will remain in the MCR’s art collection. 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”.  

Mr Katzman further stated: “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”.

However, Guido Fawkes seemed to misunderstand the relationship between the MCR and Magdalen College. They initially described the action on Twitter as having been carried out by “Magdalen Common Room” until they were corrected by Dinah Rose, the President of Magdalen College, who noted it was an organisation of graduate students and not the College. Ms Rose explained: “They’re not the College, they’re a group of students deciding how to decorate the walls of their own common room.  It’s great that you take an interest. Maybe they should send you their curtain swatches too?”

Dinah Rose, the President of Magdalen College, made a longer statement on Twitter. In it, she said: “Here are some facts about Magdalen College and HM the Queen. The Middle Common Room is an organisation of graduate students. They don’t represent the College. 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. 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”.

Ms Rose further complained some journalists had “misrepresented the story in order to provoke outrage that is currently resulting in abuse and threats being directed at my College staff”. Ms Rose has further robustly defended the right of Magdalen College students to free speech.

The story has become a matter of comment for national politicians. The Education Secretary Gavin 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”.  Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told the BBC “I have a portrait of the Queen on my office wall in my Government department and I’m proud to do so”. The Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham told Nick Ferrari on LBC: “These kind of gestures are getting a bit out of hand. We should always respect the Queen but particularly now given things that have happened in the last few months. I don’t support that. Let’s get a sense of proportion and a bit of respect”, further saying the decision was “divisive”.

However, some have also criticised the amount of attention the story has been given. Sam Freedman, a former advisor to Michael Gove, tweeted: “When I was at Magdalen the common room spent most of its time discussing whether to give honorary membership to the owner of the local kebab van. It is not a serious institution”.

Magdalen College MCR and Dinah Rose have been contacted for comment.

Image credits: slack12 on Flickr