The suggestion that public servants swear an oath to them is intriguing—and not in a good wayby Jay Elwes / December 27, 2016 / Leave a comment
Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, said recently that he wants all public servants to swear an oath of office in which they agree to abide by British Values. Writing in the Sunday Times newspaper, Javid said that: “We can’t expect new arrivals to embrace British values if those of us who are already here don’t do so ourselves, and such an oath would go a long way to making that happen.”
It’s an intriguing suggestion for many reasons, but two are especially significant—it assumes first that British values exist, and second that it would be possible to reach agreement on what those values are.
In the spirit of Javidism then, we ask: what are British values? An answer might be that they are a set of precepts that reflect the modern experience of being British. Sounds good. But this brings us immediately to the question of what it means to be British, and the ructions of 2016 strongly suggest that there may be no real answer to that question.
If you ask an early middle-aged, suburbanite, middle-class white man from Dulwich in south-east London like me what it means to be British, then you will get one answer. But if you ask a middle-aged, suburbanite, middle class white man from Dulwich in south east London like Nigel Farage, then you will get a different answer altogether. The distance between our views would be huge, just as it would be between a Ukip voter in Boston and the man who does the Gladdy Wax sound-system at the Notting Hill Carnival.
The neat relativist solution is to say that Britain is defined simultaneously by all of these visions and that in embracing them as a whole, we find…