Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Oath of Allegiance

Much sound and fury over Lord Goldsmith's suggestion that young Britons take the oath of allegiance.

The reactions were predictable and generally boring. The Tories think Labour is putting a sticking plaster on a problem of its own politically correct making while the metropolitan liberals whine about swearing allegiance to the Queen - and it is these latter people I spend most of my time with.

I'm at best a luke warm monarchist and one of the reasons that I like being British is that we don't wear our nationality on our sleeves. That said, I think that I'm with the former Attorney General. At the moment, it is only new British citizens - immigrants - that have a citizenship ceremony including the Oath of Allegiance. This is unfair. It's like a hoop that they have to jump through that the rest of us don't. If citizenship is equal and truly based on civic values then this seems unfair. So yes, on leaving school and taking up their place as citizens then young people should go through the same ceremony.

As for the fact of swearing allegiance to the Queen, well, the last time I looked this was still a monarchy, so it is entirely appropriate. If you think that the monarchy needs to be change (as I do) or that it needs to be abolished, well, that's actually a separate debate.

But it is a debate that a lot of people seem to want to introduce into this one. It's the way that they do it that I find interesting.

"I'm a republican, I'm not swearing allegiance to any queen", they say. Orwell's essay The Lion and the Unicorn is illuminating here, "In England patriotism takes different forms in different classes, but it runs like a connecting thread through nearly all of them. Only the Europeanized intelligentsia are really immune to it . . .it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during ‘God save the King’ than of stealing from a poor box."

There is strain in left liberal thinking, particularly amongst the London middle class, for whom having the right opinion and being seen to have that opinion, is more important than anything else. Though it values collectivist thinking and community values, in the final analysis too many of the metropolitan elite care more about what people think about them and refuse to compromise these for notions of the greater good.

Their problem with the oath is expressed in terms of 'I'. 'I don't want this', 'I'm not a royalist', 'I don't believe in God'. There is no engagement with how citizenship ceremonies could make us a more cohesive and happy 'we'.

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