Sunday, 18 December 2016

So help us God

Sajid Javid has said that he is warm to the idea that holders of public office (however that is defined: with 40% or so of the economy under direct state control, and 100% being regulated) should swear their allegiance to British Values before they are allowed to take up their position. This comes around every few years. And every few years people laugh at it, poke holes in the reasoning and then it goes away again. 

Unless an oath of allegiance is considered a binding contract that one could be held to have breached, then it seems fairly pointless. Will there be a new criminal offence of saying you tolerate the views of others when you don't really? The people who Mr Javid presumably wants to bar from having important responsibilities in public life are, one presumes, exactly the people who would have no problem making the required oath whether or not they agreed with a single bit of it. It would be seen simply as part of the "game". 

I have always seen oaths taken elsewhere as a sign of institutional weakness - of tin-pottery. The US President has to swear that he or she will uphold the Constitution. Cannot the Constitution uphold itself if the President tries to drive a coach and horses through it? How confident were the founding fathers that it would all stay upright? Not very, perhaps. 

I once had to sign a UK government form (it was pink, and asked all sorts of silly questions) with a declaration at the bottom that I would uphold the values of Parliamentary Democracy. As I was signing I wondered whether there weren't perfectly defensible viewpoints which might be contrary to that, which sensible people could hold without being terrorists. What happens if Parliament goes against a democratic choice, what do oath-takers do then? Will Mr Javid be making people swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen? That could exclude an awful lot of Liberal Democrats. Maybe that is the point.

And we haven't even got onto the question of what these British Values might be. Mr Javid says that he does not want to see a "government-approved, one-size-fits-all identity" where everyone "drinks tea, watches cricket and bobs up and down at the Last Night of the Proms". Which is lucky in a country where football is obviously the national sport.

One of the key British values which has stood the test of time is that of eccentricity and the tolerance for the eccentricity of others. Try incorporating that into an oath, Mr Javid.

"I, Blue Eyes, do swear and attest that I will uphold the British Values of fair play, hard work and an eye-wateringly expensive welfare state, of freedom of speech unless it offends anyone, and the right to be a little bit weird but not too weird. I will uphold the right of everyone to hold at least one petty grudge, to get apostrophes wrong every single bloody time, and to have no more than three topics which should not be discussed in front of them down the pub. So help me Beckham."


Bloke In North Dorset said...

The key point here isn't what was said but who was saying it. Having seen at work close up SJ is one of the better guys, although tainted by association with Osborne. This should be seen as a signal to the middle class that it would be OK to have a 1st generation Asian leader of the Conservative party at some point in the future, and by extension to the rest of the electorate that it would be OK for him to be PM as he's "one of us".

Lord Blagger said...

Consider the advantages. Government obligations become legally binding

Nick Drew said...

another key British Value is bloody-mindedness, to a degree that always takes 'cultured' nations by surprise (and may yet do so again) which is likewise a bit difficult to incorporate

I have always felt that writing stuff down to be hallowed (in the form, e.g., of an oath, a constitution or a Holy Book) is generally a function of the writer being nervous that otherwise they'll get a quite different result to the one they want

which is only half a step away from being fairly sure the edict goes against the grain

Blue Eyes said...

Nick, and of course writing things down doesn't always mean that the meaning is kept clear and consistent. As people involved with contracts - and US gun debates - can confirm..!

Anonymous said...


APL said...

"Cannot the Constitution uphold itself if the President tries to drive a coach and horses through it? "

Well, no. The constitution of the USA is just a piece of paper, if the institutions of the Republic and the people in those institutions don't all aim to give life to the constitution, the document itself, is just that. A dead piece of paper.

Blue eyes: "and of course writing things down doesn't always mean that the meaning is kept clear and consistent."

Then how do you do that ( keep the meaning clear and consistent ) if you have no yardstick to measure the meaning nor any reference to the original statements?

Sajid Javid: "should swear their allegiance to British Values "

The issue here is, what is his interpretation of 'British Values', the concept has been so bastardised over the last sixty years as to be almost unrecognisable. Still less incapable of definition.

'British' values today have to encompass so many conflicting cultures from as disparate geographical regions as Africa and India and Pakistan. How would Sajid Javid have any idea what British values are?

Blue Eyes said...

Well APL you have inadvertently hit on the point, by a circuitous and rather non-British route.

Would British Values have been easy to define and oathise sixty years ago? What about 160 years ago? What about 360 years ago?

If such an oath had been written in 1948 it might have included a celebration of central planning or bread rationing.

What is so good about Britishness and Britain is that there is no tight definition of it. CF our Scandinavian neighbours who tend to have a socially-controlled idea of what it means to be Danish/Swedish/Norwegian.

Demetrius said...

Having been there a few times the curious thing about The Arena at the Last Night The Proms is the number of foreigners there. Once I bobbed up and down with an Estonian at one hand and a Japanese at the other. Behind me were Germans. Also, amazingly the Germans knew the second verse of the National Anthem which the Brit's did not. Perhaps they came from Hanover.

markc said...

I'd always felt Javid was a sensible sort of chap, but this oath-swearing shite is ludicrous. That sector of the population who are the most likely to harbour "non-British values" are the ones who enjoy the spiritual advance forgiveness of taqqiya - pretty much, you can tell any damn lie you want.

Oaths worked decades and centuries ago because there was rigid code of honour and because belief in divine retribution for oath-breakers was as universal as made no damn difference. These days, the majority don't believe in a divine sky fairy and so there's no retribution from that quarter; there's certainly little honour, so horse on and Devil take the hindmost. Court/legal oaths at least have the backup of the threat of being banged up.

dearieme said...

I think that "signing" the Official Secrets Act was seen as a bit of melodrama, the point of which was just to emphasise that this was serious business. No one supposed that it would exclude spies.

APL said...

blue eyes: "Well APL you have inadvertently hit on the point, by a circuitous "

The US Oath of the President to uphold the constitution is one thing. The constitution is largely a codified body of restrictions on the reach of the state. It relies on a text that can be used to understand the intent of the founders of the USA.

blue eyes: "Would British Values have been easy to define and oathise sixty years ago? What about 160 years ago? What about 360 years ago?"

Sixty years ago? Ten years after the end of the second world war and before the torrent of immigration? And on the cusp of the campaign of the destruction of organised Christianity had really got going? Before the cultural revolution of the '60s?, Before the *modern* Welfare state? ( Not the charitable self help organisations, nor the self enrichment scams called charidee, we have today), and before the destruction of the British education system.

Yes - very probably. But because none of those things had happened yet. No one in Britain would have contemplated such an oath, it would have been utterly redundant.

blue eyes: "and rather non-British route."

Apparently, it's impossible to know what 'Britishness' is, so I wonder, how you've come to that conclusion?

Nick Drew said...

being somewhat tapped into local government I can report a bit on how British Values are taught

(a) they are:
- democracy
- the rule of law
- individual liberty
- mutual respect
- tolerance of those with different beliefs/faiths and none

(b) as taught (and mine is a Labour borough), Individual Liberty includes
- boys and girls equally valued
- choosing your partner
and in adult ed.
- wearing what clothes you want to wear
- going out when you want to
(no prizes for guessing what that's all aimed at ...)

Rule of Law is stated to include not cheating in exams etc

(c) there's a certain type of lefty teacher who wails "but those are all Universal Values, they are not particularly British" (they can typically be shut up by asking them where FGM fits in their rosy view of the world)

(d) many of the adult learners declare that Rule of Law is exactly why they have come here (it very different in my country, teacher)

but they all snort at 'no cheating in exams' and aver that if they could, they certainly would

Anonymous said...

Why not require office holders to adhere to the Thirty-Nine Articles ? That used to work well in filtering out undesirables.

Don Cox

Steven_L said...

Perhaps someone should point out what the New Testament has to say about oaths:

Again, you have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I tell you not to swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is His footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.…

dearieme said...

Aha: is that why Quakers used to refuse to take oaths? And do they still?

Timbo614 said...


Foreigner to Brit: Please swear to be British ...

Brit: OK. Fuck!


Nick Drew said...

no dearieme, that's oats - Quaker oats

Blue Eyes said...

Timbo :-)))

Bill Quango MP said...

I don't think your oath goes far enough.
Must have something in there about a determination to discuss our benign weather on all occasions as if tornadoes, tsunamis, avalanches, droughts and ice storms were a daily , rather than, millennia experience.
Of course our go to safe space of the weather is to cover centuries of social embarrassment and deep insecurity about the exact class and caste an unknown person might belong to.
Added to the weather has evolved our desire to begin a gathering with a tale of the difficulties of our trip to get to it.

I would seek to amend the oath

",... and to have no more than three topics which should not be discussed in front of them down the pub, excluding the weather and transport which form a large part of our social, national language, bit nippy isn't it? How was your journey? A2 was murder again..So help me Beckham."

Blue Eyes said...

How did I miss weather and traffic? Obviously I am no fit for public office. I did think about mentioning house prices.

E-K said...

It's a fine line between being an eccentric and being a twit. In my bitter personal experience there is little tolerance for either in Britain. From this came my Time Sausage Theory - that everything happens at once and is predetermined; our experience of time is false. This now becoming mainstream in the scientific community. I had to absolve myself of responsibility for being odd somehow and this theory best fitted the bill.

There is little point in taking an oath if it's preordained. Javid does not understand the Universe if he thinks that this will make things better.

Blue Eyes said...

EK your time sausage theory is entirely plausible. For me it seems rather unlikely because at the Big Bang (say) then everything was preordained, including popular flat-pack furniture brands. Then again, Douglas Adams notes that in an infinite universe everything is possible and indeed guaranteed. So maybe Earth is just waiting to be plumbed into the single hyperspace market.

CityUnslicker said...

So doing a post of Space/Time over of my favourite subjects to discuss...

Charlie said...

I think it's a test. If you don't point, laugh and take the piss out of this ludicrous "oath" then you are clearly not of British values and therefore unfit to hold office.

E-K said...

Blue - It's not just the Universe that is infinite but the versions of every single event. There is a timeline where Akia (sic) built a shoe cupboard of decent quality over the crap one I built last Sunday.

patently said...

I thought Joseph Heller had killed the whole 'pledge of allegiance' argument?

Ah, yes, he did.

Bill Quango MP said...

he he ..Catch 22 loyalty oath. So much of Catch 22 I have forgotten.

Raedwald said...

Naval officers, for whom oaths of fealty to the sovereign are not required, always feel mildly superior to their (presumably) less-trustworthy counterparts in the army and air force who are actually required to swear an oath of loyalty and obedience when taking up their commission.

In the same sense, must we presume that millions of public servants are also inherently less trustworthy than private managers, roofers or road diggers, who would not have to take an oath? Interesting.