Monday, 21 September 2015

On bended knee

When I read last week that it was a requirement of membership of the Privy Council that members kneel before the monarch in order to pledge their undying loyalty, the first question that crossed my mind was why on earth such a requirement still exists in 2015.  And the second was – given that I know or have met several members of the Privy Council over the years – did all these people really do that?
It says a lot about the prevailing norms in UK politics that the first question which seems to have occurred to journalists was neither of those, but “Will Corbyn do it?”, with the implicit threat that he’ll be branded a hypocrite if he does and some sort of beyond-the-pale traitor if he doesn’t.  It’s not a very grown-up response.
It illustrates the way in which the media, as part of the establishment, perpetuate what is rather than ask what might be.  The existence of this arcane remnant of a bygone age is taken as a given, as is the requirement for compliance.  I don’t know whether Corbyn will be brave enough to have the courage of his convictions and refuse.  I’d think the better of him if he did, but I’m fully expecting to be disappointed.  And I’ll admit to more than a little disappointment that others have not refused in the past.
The existence of this body is a relic, of course.  It has some formal functions, but largely because parliament has never fully asserted its authority and taken these vestigial responsibilities away from the sovereign.  The argument for Corbyn – or the leader of any opposition party – becoming a member is that it enables him to be briefed confidentially “on privy council terms”.  The truth of that is open to challenge in the light of briefings coming from a hopelessly out-of-control intelligence service that they wouldn’t tell him anything anyway, even if he became their boss.  But even if it were true, it’s based on an assumption that someone who has kneeled before the monarch and sworn a solemn oath can then be trusted more than someone who hasn’t.
Such touching faith in the value of a promise may be another of those great British values which Cameron keeps banging on about.  Or maybe just another example of the total inability of those who rule the UK to let go of the past.


G Horton-Jones said...

In the early sixties I was a student at Aberystwyth. and often went to the cinema
We all stood for the National Anthem every week without fail until one week half the audience walked out when the credits started to roll after that every one left and the ritual ended

Spirit of BME said...

I agree totally with the direction of your post.
Ritual tends to be a strange human craving, we have (allegedly) Oxford students giving a dead pigs head an oral examination and we have a range of people in Wales who on the first week of August dress up with tea towels on their heads; again male members of the Anglican church each Sunday wear skirts and the more senior pointy hats – it does not float my boat, but different strokes for different folks.
Many governments have a body similar to this council, the best known is the US Presidents Executive Orders which is designed to operate when Congress is not sitting to bridge the gap, in an emergency and Orders in Council from this Royal Council does the same thing. If I recall my history lessons these orders have to later be incorporated into a Bill or they fall, but I am not sure of that.
Another ritual of the Privy Council is that they are not allowed to sit and all is done standing up – designed to keep it shot.

Dave Edwards said...

The Bitish national anthem begins "God save our gracious queen". As I believe in neither the concept of gods or queens , what am I or Jeremy Corbyn to do?

John Dixon said...


You and me both on that one. That wasn't really the subject of this post, however - it was about the issue of the strange rites to become part of the Privy Council. The same core issue applies though - given that I know a large number of politicians to be both republicans and atheists, why on earth do so many simply comply? I hope Corbyn will stick by his beliefs; I'd think the better of him for that. I'm expecting to be disappointed though, sadly.