Would I swear an oath to uphold British values? Well, I am not against the principle of affirming my loyalty to something or someone. At a young age I recited the cub and then the scout promises; later I made my marriage vows in public; I even swore the oath of allegiance when appointed as a magistrate and witnessed the attestation of a number of police officers before they could receive their warrant cards.
What troubles me is the nature of the term ‘British values’ as part of an oath of loyalty to serve in public life. To cite an example, I support the principle of the BBC as an embodiment of British Values, but, perhaps because of my age, prefer Radio 4 to Radio 1. But, I cannot pick and choose between the different parts of the organisation. This may be the case even more with a term like ‘British values’.
Does it mean everyone living here over a period of time, say the length of a tourist visa, should either have learnt English or be attending classes to learn the language to serve in public office? And to what standard? How would that go down in Cornwall among those that want a revival of the Cornish language? Do we tolerate the revival of that language, but insist British values requires the learning of English as well; something not required in Wales or Scotland. In Wales, there are Welsh-medium schools, so presumably it is permissible to go through life without learning English, even if it affects the pattern of one’s daily life.
There is a risk that the proponents of British values might see any school not teaching through the medium of the English language as not upholding British values. Where would this leave the Lycee Francais, Polish Saturday schools and, indeed, any independent school not teaching in English? Could I uphold or even swear an oath as a councillor that requires such a level of conformity?
I recognise the rising levels of intolerance in many areas of society, after a period when politics had been through a time of remarkable coming together of philosophies. Now we are entering a new phase, where re-alignments around new positions that can be radically different are emerging not just here in Britain, but in other parts of the world as well. The economic and geo-political strains of the present time cause pressures as they have done in the past. An oath including upholding a term as vague as ‘British values’ won’t alter the economic situation one iota. It won’t breakdown the communities of those from other countries that seek to live and work together. The Polish War Memorial sits adjacent to the A40 for a reason, just as the Jewish community still lives in many of the same parts of London as it did in my youth.
Let’s declare war on intolerance and do everything to combat the fear and hate of those from other communities while encouraging them not to exist in isolation, let’s support and encourage free speech, the powers of democracy and even the primacy of an un-elected House of Lords, but not through an oath to ill-defined values that can be manipulated by the government of the day.