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By Abbas Panjwani
Elitists vote against elitism… despite being, according to one comment on the Daily Mail website, ‘students whose intellect struggled to obtain nothing more than an NVQ in shifting muck from an elephant enclosure’. It’s hard not to notice that there’s something of a contradiction in that statement.
This is just the first of many simple errors in the Daily Mail’s account of a recent Keble JCR debate over whether to place a portrait of Elizabeth II in the JCR in recognition of her service to the UK.
I think a few points of fact need to be outlined in relation to the Mail’s account. Sadly, this is yet another example of the biased, sensationalist reporting typical of tabloid journalism, with little to no root in reality.
Regarding the assertion that the motion was rejected because the Queen was ‘born into privilege’: quite why this ‘quote’ is placed in ‘quotation marks’ is unclear. No one present at the meeting is quite sure because, as the minutes attest, it simply was not said. This also true of the reported comments ‘The Royal family do nothing but sit on their backsides and wave at people’ and ‘They have never had to work in their lives and just live off their ancestor’s money’. Now, tabloid journalism is famous for, ahem, being economical with the facts. However, the invention of quotes contravenes pretty much any definition of ‘reporting’ that I am aware of. That type of writing is called ‘Fiction’; you can find more compelling examples of it in most libraries.
We then come to the section which seems to have provoked almost as much indignant braying from a misled Mail readership as Keble’s imaginary republicanism. Concerning the mysterious ‘Worcester student’: as far as I know, when a journalist uses a statistic, he is expected to take it from a reliable source. Quoting a statistic prefaced by ‘I’d Say’ would usually set a few alarm bells ringing regarding the utility of the following statement. The comment ‘considering the intake at Keble’, followed by the estimate that ’90 percent of the students at that college are born into rich families’ implies that it is a fact that the majority of Keble’s population are from ‘rich’ backgrounds. Yet another example of the Mail’s bizarre approach to fact. Here are some facts:
Keble provides a total of £141,000 in income-assessed support annually, over and above the central Oxford Opportunities Bursaries and means-tested government support grants.
Now we’ve got that cleared up, let’s move on to the murky heart of this (to be kind) poorly-researched article. Apparently, the motion was rejected because the Queen was ‘born into privilege’. Had the Mail done their research they would have known that this was not the case. The opening statement of the opposition was that this wasn’t about the merits of the monarchy. This wasn’t about privilege, this wasn’t about elitism and it certainly wasn’t about republicanism. It was a point of principle about the JCR as a bi-partisan, impartial and apolitical space; a space representing all Keble students, regardless of nationality or political persuasion. Giving recognition to one socio-political figure over any other marks the space with a particular socio-political character, especially a figure metonymic of such a contentious body as the Monarchy. As recorded by the minutes, one student commented ‘Rightly or wrongly a lot of people will think the Queen will approximate something they agree or disagree with and I think having her on the wall will make some people feel uncomfortable.’
If the criteria under which an individual would be selected for recognition is indeed to be ‘service to the nation’ (as was the proposition), then, as another Keble student remarked during the debate, ‘Where is the recognition for the millions of teachers, social workers and others who have serviced the nation?’. It is not as if Keble has not recognized the Jubilee in a number of ways, including a Jubilee Hog Roast event, Matins service, the flying of the Union Jack and Jubilee decorations in many public spaces of the College. As many of the opponents of the motion happily pointed out, they support the monarchy. However, if Keble is to be as accessible and open as possible, the very first place students see when they arrive and the place in which their views are to be heard should not cue them toward any ideological stance whatsoever, whether that be one of nationalism, patriotism or otherwise.
If anything, the charge of promoting elitism should be laid at the feet of the Daily Mail. It is propagating and perpetuating myths based on prejudice and falsehoods which are continually reinforcing the barriers between the underprivileged and institutions like Oxford, demeaning and destroying the achievements and efforts of those dedicated to ensuring that this university is open to all.