DANIEL HANNAN has hit out at an Oxford University college after it backed the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes.
Oriel College has announced it wants to take down the monument of the British imperialist from the High Street entrance of the building. It comes after a long-running Rhodes Must Fall campaign which gained fresh attention in recent weeks amid anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in the US.
But the former Conservative MEP accused the Oxford college of being “intimidated by a delirious mob”.
Writing in the Daily Mail, Mr Hannan said: “I’m not sure which is more depressing – the anti-intellectual frenzy of the crowds who gathered outside the College on Thursday or the way Oriel’s Fellows folded so cravenly.
“Universities are supposed to elevate facts over feelings – but that principle sits ill with identity politics.
“Angry protesters have little interest in argument or nuance.
“Almost no one, in the current climate, wants to point out that by the standards of his era Rhodes was a liberal (as well as a Liberal).”
Mr Hannan admitted the colonialist was “no saint” but warned of the “difficulty of applying retrospective morality”.
He said: “Rhodes stands in stone because, having made a lot of money early in life, he did not spend it on himself, but gave it away to what he saw as deserving causes – including Oxford University, which he had first attended in 1873.
“None of this becomes any less true because of a killing in Minnesota that everyone agrees was indefensible.
“How the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer three weeks ago led to the removal of an unrelated statue 4,000 miles away will one day have historians scratching their heads.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Oriel College said the governing body had voted in favour of launching an independent inquiry into the monument and had “expressed their wish to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes and the King Edward Street Plaque” to the commission.
The statement said: ”The governing body of Oriel College has today voted to launch an independent commission of inquiry into the key issues surrounding the Rhodes statue.
“They also expressed their wish to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes and the King Edward Street Plaque.
“This is what they intend to convey to the independent commission of inquiry.
“Both of these decisions were reached after a thoughtful period of debate and reflection and with the full awareness of the impact these decisions are likely to have in Britain and around the world.
“The commission will deal with the issue of the Rhodes legacy and how to improve access and attendance of BAME undergraduate, graduate students and faculty, together with a review of how the college’s 21st-century commitment to diversity can sit more easily with its past.”
The commission will be chaired by Carole Souter, the current master of St Cross College and former chief executive of the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
A report for the governing body will be produced by the end of the year, the statement added.
Earlier on Wednesday, universities minister Michelle Donelan called campaigns to remove the statue “short-sighted”.
Speaking at a webinar hosted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), she said: “Recent actions, such as renaming buildings named after Gladstone or campaigns to remove the statue of Rhodes, I think, are quite short-sighted.
“Because if we cannot rewrite our history, instead what we should do is remember and learn from it.”
And Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab warned the UK should be careful not to “airbrush” its history.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we should be very careful not to airbrush our history but to use statues and monuments as a point of debate.
“But one thing I do accept is that people will think that we ought to keep updating our history, and make sure the symbols reflect the spirit and the values of the age.”