Cambridge University’s Student Union (CUSU) has voted down a motion to promote Remembrance Sunday amid fears about the “glorification” of conflict.
The motion called on the university, its Colleges and faculties to be “more proactive in promoting the cause of Remembrance". This could include asking for a minute's silence on Remembrance Sunday or sending email reminders to students about the availability of poppies, the motion said. It encouraged the commemoration of British veterans, adding that CUSU should "ensure that Remembrance Day becomes a well-established and well-marked event across the university”.
But the motion, which was put forward by two members of the university’s Conservative Association, was rejected by students during their first meeting of the new academic year.
The move came after an amendment was voted through, which noted the efforts of various organisations to “reshape remembrance away from glorification and valorisation of war” and to campaign “against militarism”.
The amendment, proposed by student activist Stella Swain, struck out references to “British war veterans”, “Remembrance Day” and “Poppies”.
Instead, Ms Swain argued that “all lives lost and affected by war” should be commemorated and that students should be encouraged to engage in “productive criticism” of war.
She said she wanted to “reflect the status of the University as an international institution” and argued that it was “vital that we recognise all different background and don’t just focus on British war veterans”.
James Palmer, mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, said the motion brings “great shame” to Cambridge and shows “disdain” for the armed forces.
He told The Daily Telegraph: “It is something I find very difficult to comprehend – that [students] can’t be grateful and respectful of previous generations and their sacrifices.
“It is easy to judge from a distance when you have the luxury of a safe and comfortable democracy. We have an enormous debt to armed forces in this country.”
Cambridge University’s Conservative Association said it was “shocking” that the motion was not passed, as they accused students of seeking to “erase” the memory of veterans.
Timur Coskun, the Association's chair, said that while Remembrance Sunday events are held across the university, "many students unfortunately do not wear poppies".
He added: "We wanted [the students’ union] to promote the Poppy Appeal and raise money for struggling veterans charities.
“The amendment, which CUSU Council overwhelmingly voted to accept, had the clear intention of de-emphasising the sacrifices made by our brave armed forces, something which Remembrance Day in particular seeks to promote.”
A spokesman for Cambridge Students’ Union said: “Discussions were not about erasing the past, but rather broadening the focus of our remembrance to include those who suffered and died wherever they were in the world.
“We are a global university with students drawn from more than 120 countries, many of whom choose to recognise Remembrance in different ways.”
The spokesman added that presidents of both the undergraduate and postgraduate student unions will lay wreaths at a Remembrance Sunday event.