The meaning of woke

School chief urges headteachers to challenge anyone who criticises young people for ‘wokeness’

Defaced Churchill statue
A defaced statue of former prime minister Winston Churchill in Parliament Square during an anti-racism protest
(Image credit: Isabel Infantes/AFP/Getty Images)

“Oxford students cancel our Queen!” screamed the Daily Express splash this morning following a vote at Magdalen College to remove a portrait of Her Majesty from a common room.

First reported by right-wing news site Guido Fawkes, the graduate students agreed to take down the print of a 1952 photograph of Elizabeth II on the grounds that “depictions of the monarch and the British monarchy represent recent colonial history”. The decision was made by members of Magdalen College’s Middle Common Room (MCR), of whom ten voted in favour of removing the portrait, two against and five abstained, according to the BBC.

The print was bought by students in 2013 to decorate their common room, but will now be replaced by “art by or of other influential and inspirational people”, the MCR have agreed. And any future depictions of Royal Family members “will now be subject to a committee vote”, Guido Fawkes reports.

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Committee meeting minutes leaked to the site show that opponents of the changes warned that “effectively ‘cancelling’ the Queen and brandishing her a symbol of colonialism” could cause “reputational damage” to the university.

The decision has certainly caused widespread outrage, with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson tweeting that it was “simply absurd” to remove an image of a monarch who has “worked tirelessly to promote British values of tolerance, inclusivity and respect around the world”.

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In response, Magdalen College president Dinah Rose tweeted that the MCR members’ decision was “their own to take, not the college’s”.

“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,” she added.

Magdalen College Oxford

A general view of Magdalen College Oxford
(Image credit: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

But while Rose has tweeted her support for the MCR’s “right to autonomy”, critics remain angry. The Daily Mail joins the Express in splashing on the decision, under the headline: “Outrage as Oxford students vote to axe the Queen.”

Meanwhile, The Telegraph describes the Queen as the “latest victim of cancel culture”. Sir John Hayes, chair of the Common Sense Group of Conservative MPs, told the paper that he felt those involved “should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves”.

He added: “The sad thing is that you would think that the people of Magdalen College Oxford are reasonably bright, and this decision would suggest that they are not.”

That verdict is echoed by GB News presenter Dan Wootton, formerly of The Sun, who describes the students as “moronically woke”, tweeting: “You really couldn't make it up!”

Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom has also criticised the “utterly pathetic” students, during an interview on the BBC’s Politics Live show.

But some people clearly think the row is a fuss about nothing. Appearing alongside Leadsom on the programme, Scottish National Party MP Drew Hendry said he thought it was “ridiculous that we're talking about it at this level”.

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