A proposal to make public servants swear an oath of allegiance to British values will not combat radicalisation, leading members of Labour and the Liberal Democrats have said.
Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, said the idea that elected officials, civil servants, council workers, and BBC and NHS employees should pledge loyalty was doomed to failure.
The communities secretary, Sajid Javid, sparked controversy by saying he was drawn to the idea of the loyalty pledge as a way of countering extremism after the publication of a report on social cohesion by Dame Louise Casey. In her report, she said some sections of society did not accept British values such as tolerance.
One recommendation was the oath of allegiance, of which Javid has spoken in favour, saying it was impossible for people to play a “positive role” in public life unless they accepted basic values such as democracy and equality.
But Abbott spoke out against the proposal, saying it would not have any impact. She said: “I have nothing against it in principle, but it will not make a difference to the problems of radicalisation, or integration. I don’t think the oath will make any verifiable difference,” she said.
Brian Paddick, Lib Dem home affairs spokesman and former senior Metropolitan police commander, also condemned the idea: “Forcing public servants to swear an oath to British values would be both superficial and divisive. We should be talking about the universal values that unite us, not using nationalistic terms that exclude people.
“The government must focus on integrating those small pockets of people living in segregated communities. Instead they are creating hostility towards all minority communities, the vast majority of whom want to be an integrated part of the United Kingdom,” Lord Paddick said.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Javid explained why those who work in the public services should take such an oath. He said: “If we are going to challenge such attitudes, civic and political leaders have to lead by example. 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.
He said that he was talking about “integration, not assimilation” and that he wasn’t “demanding that everyone drinks tea, watches cricket or bobs up and down at the Last Night of the Proms.”
“I’m talking about tolerating the views of others, even if you disagree with them. About believing in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from abuse. I’m talking about a belief in equality, democracy and the democratic process. And about respect for the law, even if you think the law is an ass. Because if you do disagree, you can change it. That’s what freedom and democracy is all about.
“Such values are not unique to this country,” he said. “But if you don’t accept that they’re the building blocks of our society, you’ll struggle to play a positive role in British life.”
Casey also called for all migrants to swear an oath of allegiance, not just those seeking UK citizenship. Her report warned that the country was becoming more divided as it became more diverse. She acknowledged that elements would be “hard to read”, particularly for Muslim communities, which already felt under pressure, but she said the country had to face up to uncomfortable problems.
Casey’s review recommended that schoolchildren should be taught “British values” of tolerance, democracy and respect to help bind communities together amid growing “ethnic segregation”.
The report was originally commissioned by the then prime minister, David Cameron, in 2015 as part of a wider strategy to tackle extremism. It found that while Britain had benefited hugely from immigration and the increased ethnic and religious diversity it had brought, there had not been sufficient emphasis on integration.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
Have something to tell us about this article?