After spending many years observing the efforts of what Robin Day memorably, and rightly, called “here today and gone tomorrow politicians”, it has become all too easy to tell when someone in Government is trying to deflect from perceived problems, and that is when they propose something which has obviously been dreamed up to give an “exclusive” to newspapers which matches their editors’ and proprietors’ prejudices.
So it was when Communities Secretary Sajid Javid gave an “exclusive” to the Murdoch Sunday Times, in which, as the BBC has reported, “Civil servants and other holders of public office should swear an oath to British values … Mr Javid said people could not play a ‘positive role’ in public life unless they accepted basic values … These included democracy, equality and freedom of speech”. And who might this affect?
“Mr Javid's proposals would mean every new recruit in the public sector, including councillors, school governors and civil servants would be expected to commit to the oath, which may have to be read out loud before starting the role … This could extend to those working in the NHS and the BBC”. But not the Murdoch press, of course.
So how would that help? “Mr Javid recalled how, aged about eight, he went to see a GP with his mother to act as her interpreter … He said while today she is completely fluent in English, a minority of immigrants have failed to make such an ‘effort’”. Ri-i-i-i-ght.
One hates to quibble with a former Managing Director of Deutsche Bank, but this is total crap. Exactly how would public office holders swearing an oath make someone seeking advice from their GP fluent in English? Why would the swearing of an oath help with learning English? Sajid Javid seems unaware that his own example shows that the problem he is describing is not addressed by his suggested solution.
What other excuses does he have to justify this steaming bovine bowel movement? How about “tolerating the views of others even if you disagree with them … believing in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from abuse … a belief in equality, democracy and the democratic process [and] respect for the law, even if you think the law is an ass”?
No, I’m still not convinced. Anyone already in public office, including the NHS and BBC, is already well aware of such details. How else would they be holding down a job there? Moreover, Javid seems to have missed out two practical details from his hare-brained scheme, one of which is that the press he is trying to convince of his idea is all too ready to jump on the intrusive and nannying of the state - which is what he is proposing.
The other is that British values includes the tendency to take the piss out of jumped-up busybodies from the authorities sticking their bugle into peoples’ lives because they’ve got nothing better to do. This looks for all the world like an excuse to divert the press away from the Government’s ineptitude on the railways, the postal service, the prison system, Brexit, poverty and homelessness, and a whole lot more.
Plus the Kippers are making positive noises about it, which suggests the idea is dead on arrival. This idea will solve nothing, it won’t help anyone become more integrated into wider society, and it won’t make anyone more British. Take it and shove it, Sajid.