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.