Monday 19 December 2016

Forward to the past

There’s nothing new about the Tories’ commitment to ‘British values’, or about them trying to find new and interesting ways of ‘enforcing’ them, but I’m as vague as ever about what these values really are.  Or rather, what I’m unclear about is what makes them specifically British. 
There’s nothing wrong with valuing tolerance, democracy, freedom of speech, and the rule of law, but these values seem to me to be shared with many other countries.  The only thing uniquely British that I can see about them is the uniquely British belief that they are uniquely British.  It’s a reflection of that casual superiority which the (largely English, in this context) establishment possesses without seeming even to realise the fact – Johnny Foreigner and those upstart colonials may profess to value the same things, but they are either aping ‘us’ or else completely insincere.
My first reaction to the latest pronouncement by Sajid Javid, that he wants all civil servants and elected officials (and perhaps all BBC staff and other public sector workers as well) to swear an oath of allegiance to this set of values was that there was actually something profoundly un-British about it.  Oaths are all very well for Americans, and perhaps some of those European chappies, but they’re not the sort of thing ‘we’ do. 
But then I thought about it a bit more, and realised that it’s actually very British – just not in the twentieth or twenty-first century.  But in the past – which is where most of the current government seem determined to reside – it was very much the norm.  And for Cabinet Ministers, who seem to think that kneeling and kissing the hand of some unelected woman whilst swearing undying allegiance to her and her heirs rather than the electors is an entirely normal thing for grown-ups to do, it is not as strange as it otherwise appears.  (And that’s without even mentioning that many in the establishment engage in the strange rites of freemasonry as well.)
But what is perhaps most ‘British’ about it all is the touching belief that having sworn such an oath, people will then abide by it.  Because that’s what we do, right?  I mean, no 'decent chap' would ever swear an oath to get a job and then proceed to challenge those who have a divine right to rule, would he?
My real objection to this sort of approach is that it seems to be increasingly the case that ‘tolerance’ is limited to tolerance of orthodoxy, and ‘freedom of speech’ is limited to freedom to agree with the government.  Faced with an uncertain future (and having themselves contributed greatly to that uncertainty), their only response seems to be to attempt to return to the certainties of the past.  I suppose it’s a possible response, but it belies their oft-stated confidence about a great new future for Britain post-Brexit.  If the only future is the distant past, then perhaps Private Frazer was right after all in his assessment of the capability of those in leadership positions - and we really are all doomed.


Gav said...

As you suggest, swearing oaths does seem to be one of those old British traditions beloved by the establishment and despised by many. Some little while ago a friend of mine was involved in a mass swearing-in of new magistrates where the clerk, who was evidently having a bad day, invited them all to swear allegiance to the Queen and "her airs and graces", which of course they duly did.

Anonymous said...

This must be stopped at once. Oaths and Test Acts were once used by the state to crush all opposition, and to ensure that the English aristocratic establishment could rule unhindered. Between 1661 and 1828/9 everyone in authority had to swear an oath of loyalty to the King of England and to the Established Church, i.e., the Church of England.

The Corporation Act of 1661 excluded from membership of town corporations all those who were not prepared to take the sacrament according to the rites of the Church of England. The Test Act passed in 1673 imposed the same test upon holders of civil or military office.

So - for over 150 years and more, Roman Catholics,(which really meant the Irish) Jews, Unitarians, Presbyterians, Quakers, Congregationalists, Baptists and Methodists all became second class citizens in their own country - they could not become MPs, members of the professions, judges or magistrates, or hold army commissions. They could not attend universities, and were effectively regarded as being traitors or potential traitors. In 1828 both the Corporation and Test Acts were repealed by Parliament. Roman Catholics were prevented from holding public office until the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. Jewish emancipation took longer and was not fully achieved until 1890.

The English Tory Party, and their Welsh poodles in the Westminster parliament, apparently want to bring this archaic legislation back to life. We need to stop this now!