Anyone observing the opening of the new UK Parliament session yesterday will have been aware of the fatuous flummery of absurd rituals. But this is just window dressing, complete with garters, for a more fundamental point: all new members of Parliament must give an Oath of Allegiance to the Crown or else they cannot take their seats. Nobody thinks that the Queen runs Parliament, but this oath acts as a shorthand way by which patriotism and solidarity with the British state is expressed, no matter which government is in power.
The Oath takes one of two forms. The most commonly used is:
I, [member’s name], swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.
For those whose belief in the Almighty is a little shaky, but who still believe in the majesty of the British state, the version is:
I, [member’s name], do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law.
Being an atheist is now OK, but failing to have the correct national faith is not.
So it is that the Irish republican party, Sinn Féin, boycotts the House of Commons, despite having won seats in the British Parliament. As Mary Lou McDonald, the leader of Sinn Féin, put it, party members would not be willing to ‘swear an oath to a foreign power’.
Jeremy Corbyn, soon to be not leader of the Labour Party, and all other sitting MPs have taken the Oath. But that did not stop him being criticised for failing to pay attention to the Queen’s speech on Christmas Day. This was a sure sign of insufficient patriotism, and one to be included with his other alleged misdemeanours in the vox pop media interviews at the time of the General Election.
The political climate that all this suggests is pretty bad. It gets worse still when you consider the mentality that must underlie the singing of the National Anthem at all big events, especially in sports.
Study the main verse of this obsequious dirge and weep:
God save our gracious Queen!
Long live our noble Queen!
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
God save the Queen.
However, it does not take much deciphering to see that this is not really an expression of undying love for the monarch, although you will not get far in Britain without showing due deference. It is the hope that h/she will persist, but as the head of a victorious, happy and glorious country of ‘us’. The eternal reign – eternal because the Anthem is applied to succeeding monarchs – is therefore a deep, patriotic wish that British power will persist too, and that its magic will enrich all loyal subjects.
British citizens want to count themselves as beneficiaries of such magic and will sing the Anthem. It is an incantation, an expression of exaggerated pride and bolstered self-confidence to give hope for a better future for ‘us’. It is no wonder that their members of Parliament have to take the Oath of Allegiance.