Sajid Javid is too fly to fall for the myth that there is an inextricable link between not speaking English and practising Islamist terror. But he grasps a truth that the recent Casey Report spells out – namely, that there is a connection between it and cultural isolation. A means of beginning to lessen that isolation, as recommended in that report, is that an oath be sworn by new arrivals.
There are plenty of criticisms to be made of the proposal. One is that such public oath-swearing is unBritish, since Britishness itself is a web of shared assumptions and understandings, and such a subtle mesh cannot suddenly be spun out of a oath. Another is that most of those who need to swear it aren’t coming from abroad at all. They already live here. Another still is there would presumably be no punishment for breaking it.
A sharper one is that much depends not on form, but content. What would be the words of such an oath? What would it be to? An oath to Queen and country would be one thing. One to British values would be quite another. This is because they do not exist – or, rather, because there is no “value” which is distinctly British (as Javid seems to acknowledge in his piece). Americans, say, also value freedom. Germans also value democracy – perhaps all the more so for having been deprived of it within living memory.
Slovenians also value the rights of women. And so on and so forth. There is danger that such an oath decays into a litany of political correctness. That would be a problem not only for, say, Muslims but also for Christians – and indeed for anyone with common sense. “An oath is made of words,” says Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons. We want to know what the words of such an oath would be.
Javid is also sharp enough to know that one must lead by example. So he proposes today in the Sunday Times that the oath first be made by public office-holders – another Casey recommendation. With his background as the son of a Pakistani-origin bus driver, the Communities Secretary has a special interest in these matters. We hope it travels far enough for him be able to answer our question.