Big outrage about nothing much as students move portrait of Queen…

OXFORD students voting to remove a portrait of the Queen from their common room is a small pebble in a small pond. Or it would be in a sensible country with sensible newspapers.

For the Daily Mail, this rearrangement earns the headline: “OUTRAGE AS OXFORD STUDENTS VOTE TO AXE QUEEN.” Over on the Daily Express, milky morning tea is being dribbled out to the words: “HOW DARE THEY! OXFORD STUDENTS CANCEL OUR QUEEN.”

This is a story for the Oxford Mail, not the Daily Mail. And that is where you will find it , seemingly followed up from the nationals, as the local story was uploaded only this morning.

The Oxford Mail website does, however, opt for a sensible headline: “Oxford University students vote to remove portrait of Queen.” No faux outrage, no sticking your head in a dustbin and shouting for effect; just the facts in a story written by one reporter.

The better-known Mail dedicated three reporters on the task, according to the joint byline. Three people to write that nonsense! Plus at least one news editor shouting into that dustbin, one editor steering from the sidelines, and one sub-editor to bellow at his computer while composing that headline.

What a lot of effort for nothing much. The Mail’s headline is, naturally enough, misleading as the students haven’t voted to “axe the Queen” but to remove her portrait from their common room.

Still, in the heat of the moment it’s hard to tell the difference between a portrait and a real monarch. Had they just voted to abolish the monarchy, the headline might have made sense.

As for the Express, dearie me, it’s like an old auntie who spits out her false teeth at the slightest provocation. Put your teeth back in – those students just want to remove a picture.

Sadly, this non-story fits with the culture wars mood of the moment, as the students decreed that the picture “represents colonial history”.

You know, students are always protesting about something or other and always have. Although in my long distant days at Goldsmiths College, the student politics passed me by, as I was more interested in beer, girls and English literature, approximately in that order.

What strikes me as an outrage is that our newspapers should be so easily outraged by nothing at all. Still, at least being outraged on behalf of the Queen avoids the need to do the heavy lifting involved in finding a real story or a real outrage.

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, got in on the act. Of course he did, popping up and down like the over-filled kettle of pointless indignation that he is. He tweeted that “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 & respect around the world.”

Nearly 4,500 people liked that lame tweet – how anyone can like a tweet from that man is a mystery.

He could open the doors to his own cellar, peer down those steps and wonder if he’d be better trying to understand his job, rather than sending out twerpy tweet-tweets.

It’s dispiriting when newspapers carry on like this. Isn’t there any proper news out there any more? As someone who has been foolish enough to spend most of his working life in and around newspapers, sometimes I despair.

Oddly, though, I can’t shake off the habit of believing in newspapers, even when they churn out this stuff. Or believing in some newspapers some of the time, mostly the Guardian and the Observer as that’s just the way I am. And the Yorkshire Post as the features editor is kind enough to use my words sometimes.

But all those national editors getting hot under their collars should give over worrying about student politics.  They should have canned that habit when they stopped being students.

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