Less than a month after former Margaret Thatcher’s death, second year historian Olivia Arigho Stiles proposed a motion to change the name of the Margaret Thatcher centre.This, she believes, is the only way for the college to distance itself from someone she says was an “intensely divisive figure in international politics”.
Arigho Stiles commented: “In light of the incredible media attention Somerville has been getting following Mrs Thatcher’s death, I really think it’s time the college distanced itself from her memory.
“From a historical point of view, she inflicted a lot of harm on some of the most vulnerable members of working class society, systematically targeting miners and trade unions, and this is not someone the college should be remembering fondly. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Somerville should be condemning Margaret Thatcher, not celebrating her great name.”
After prolonged debate in the JCR meeting this Sunday, the motion fell, with 34 votes against, four in favour and three abstentions.
Zoe Fannon, the VP/Treasurer of the JCR, pointed out that the JCR does not have the authority to change the names of buildings in the college, so the motion was just asking the college authorities to consider changing the name.
On the motion itself, she said: “It was felt that to pass the motion would be to make a political statement on behalf of the student body as a whole, which would be contrary to Somerville’s belief in valuing the diversity of opinion within the JCR and therefore remaining politically neutral. There are students from across the political spectrum within Somerville, and if it is to be truly representative the JCR cannot become a platform for one viewpoint exclusively but should be a space in which we can all express and discuss our opinions freely.”
Flo Avery, JCR Access Officer said: “I voted in favour of the motion because the issue that was raised during the meeting – and one that I don’t think was discussed as thoroughly as it should have been – was that the name of the conference centre might raise questions about access as it could easily put students off applying to Somerville as they may fear that, by applying here, they are making a political statement. As Access Officer, this is what most concerns me and I don’t think this was taken as seriously as it could have been in the meeting. I would be happier for the JCR to be seen to take a more neutral stance on Thatcher and I think this motion is very much in the spirit of that.”
In her proposition to the JCR, Stiles noted that Mrs Thatcher had a troubled relationship with her former university, as evidenced by the fact that she was never presented with an honorary degree, an honour afforded to all other post-war Prime Ministers who had studied in Oxford.
However, it would appear as though Somerville is keen to celebrate the legacy of the former Prime Minister. Their website states: “Somerville has always taken pride in the warm relationship it continues to enjoy with Lady Thatcher, who is an Honorary Fellow of the College.” The college also offers scholarships and fellowships in Thatcher’s name.