Tory Communities Minister Sajid Javid has recommended we introduce an oath of allegiance and swearing to a set of ‘British Values” for immigrants, elected officials, civil servants, and council workers. In a world where our humming ex PM actually barked: “Put on a proper suit, do up your tie, and SING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM”, this may come as little surprise. But it’s a sure sign of the complete detachment from reality of the Westminster Government that they think this could or would play well, outside the sheltered corners of their own minds.
The naked contempt of the oligarchy is spilling out into the open. Today the BBC’s Andrew Neil, who earns a modest £555,000 from the public licence tweeted: “I pay your wages too. And the unemployment benefits of the cybernats”, which coming neatly after John Cleese asking in October: “Why do we let half-educated tenement Scots run our English press? Because their craving for social status makes them obedient retainers?” neatly encapsulated the new right’s fresh unmuzzled zeal.
From a year when the recommissioning of the Royal Yacht Britannia was seriously considered, and the government ordered firms to keep lists of foreign workers, none of this should come as great shock to us. But this is just pure racism laced with a class sneer. Andrew Neil is the personification of the media elite, he’s the Top Cat of the Uncle Tom cadre who has been propping up vested interests and amassing a vast salary for his woeful tv chum-show for years, he’s the failed newspaper boy, the Playboy Editor who’s been allowed to play at tv.
And all of this is contemptuous of “nationalism’.
But Andrew’s throw-way comment should not be thrown-away. Deconstructed it’s very useful. “I pay your wages too” implies that from his vast wealth the trickle down economics of taxation means that he is contributing to all of our wellbeing. His idea that the “unemployment benefits of the cybernats” neatly conjoins two ideas that are central to the man, first that Scotland is some Soviet backwater of unproductive sloth and benefit scroungers, and secondly that anyone who argues for self-determination is doing so as part of some work-shy underclass, the truly resourceful successful Scot would have either left or would be 100% behind the values and systems of Great Britain.
The idea of an oath to British Values is one that will make most people laugh, or cry.
As we sell Cluster Bombs to the Saudis to attack people in the Yemen, as we vilify workers, as we preside over a social economy that allows JD Sports to treat people like scum, and G4s to run the NHS the idea of a ‘British values’ seem elusive. The values they do list, are universal ones and ones that we are particularly bad at supporting.
As Paul Mason has noted: “Theresa May accused strikers of “contempt for ordinary people”. And – as always – the neck veins of TV reporters are bulging as they express outrage on behalf of those affected”. From the Enemy Within to today is has been the same – and the Tories have always shown their contempt in full. Nothing’s changed. As Mason concludes: “don’t complain about the posties, train drivers, cabin crews and baggage handlers – they’re only doing what we all should in 2017.”
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the problem is not that we can’t identify “British values” – but that we can: brutal inequality, smug superiorism, constitutionally enshrined hierarchy and endless militarism are some, all with a sneering dose of class contempt.
But perhaps the specifics of the oath isn’t the point. In a value-free country the point of the oath is the oath. As Zoe Williams talks of the “Muscles of power being flexed again and again” she recounts Captain Black in Catch-22’s Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade: “The important thing is to keep them pledging … It doesn’t matter whether they mean it or not. That’s why they make little kids pledge allegiance even before they know what ‘pledge’ and ‘allegiance’ means.”
The monster of English Nationalism is on the rise, like Hengest and Horsa meet Godzilla. It screams ‘Makes England Great Again” whilst muttering “Britain First”.
This “Hurrah! Die Marmite ist Alle!” encapsulates the manner in which the movement shudders from evil to banality:
“There comes a point when you can no longer hide from the material consequences of your political decisions. There comes a point where the Marmite runs out. A cold-blooded murder by a slogan-screaming fascist just days before the referendum is one thing. The rise in assaults reported by people of colour, Eastern European migrants, and queers is another. The firebombing. The uncertainty of millions of EU migrants, a collapsing pound, soaring cost of living, a rejoicing far-right, a looming spectre of violence and economic catastrophe – it’s neither here nor there, to be honest. But a Marmite shortage? That’s when the Real British begin to worry about the dark future of Europe. “
But for those who think that the Yes movement should be, or is above some left-right divide, remember Neil’s words. He holds you in contempt and the only response will need to be a resistance to the ideas he espouses. Let’s not be timid, the politics that are on open display in British life are repugnant to most of us. It is not ‘radical’ to defend workers rights, or to be against profit from war. It’s not radical to – like the rest of mainland Europe – enshrine the freedom of movement, and it’s not radical to have a benefit system that supports people or to create conditions for decent pay.
This isn’t about anthems or oaths or suits and ties or flags or yachts, it’s about creating a society people actually want to live in and not feel ashamed of.