Norman Baker: time to ditch the oath of allegiance

For those who are surprised that Norman Baker should have come third in our poll of most-rated Lib Dem shadow cabinet members, much of Stormin’ Norm’s popularity is the result of his championing of causes just like this:

A collection of 22 cross party MPs are launching a campaign to end the tradition of swearing allegiance to the Queen when entering parliament. Led by Liberal Democrat Norman Baker, the MPs are calling for the choice to swear an oath to their constituents and the nation instead.

“This is a matter of democracy,” said Mr Baker. “I’m put here by my constituents and it’s to them I owe my allegiance. Taking the oath to an unelected person is a nonsense.”

For those who want to enjoy the foaming-at-the-mouth fulminations of the Daily Mail and Sun you can click here and here.

My favourite knee-jerk idoticism is Lord Tebbit’s: “They’d rather swear allegiance to Brussels.”

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  • The Bible is pretty popular,a lot of people see it as a symbol of truth. Should we still require oaths in court on that?

    Taking such a monolithic view would disenfranchise part of the population, as this disenfranchises those with differing views on the nature of political structures, and both should be opposed.

  • Norman is great and I agree with his sentiments on this but this isn’t really the time or the issue to be promoting.

    He hasn’t started a campaign, he’s got a bit of press coverage, and the two are not the same thing at all.

    I guess that most people think the Queen does a difficult job well and wouldn’t swap places with her for all the expense accounts in Westminster.

  • Just a question, but in other monarchies around Europe do MPs take an oath of loyalty to the monarchy, the constitution, their constituents, or a combination?

  • Sadly, Norman Baker falls foul of the modern trend towards “I want my way and I’ll thcream and thcream til I get it, because I’M so very important.”

    Britain is a constitutional monarchy and Members of Parliament owe allegiance to the head of state. Baker can be as republican as he likes but it’s tough s*** what HE wants – if he wants to serve in Parliament he must swear allegiance to Her Majesty.

  • Anonymous, if someone wants constitutional change it is only right that they campaign for it using democratic processes. That is how we came to have the current set-up, and is also how it can be changed. You may view it as very desirable, but acting as if suggesting a different way of doing things is sacrilege doesn’t make any sense in that context.

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 8th Aug '08 - 9:58pm

    What’s an “idoticism”?

    Are you going for a “google-whack” or something?

  • There’s some furious, ferocious attacks from comment threads that ALL these MPs are getting (although admittedly on the Daily Mail and ConservativeHome) with many calling them traitors and communists. My point is, who are the MPs serving? Wouldn’t people prefer MPs swear allegiance to the people and be accountable to them? Is it going to shake the foundations of British society if they don’t swear allegiance to the Queen? I’m sorry people but republicans exist, if you don’t want them!

  • Strident? I’m strident about my place in the eyes of the State; how I’m a subject to an unelected Head. I was born into this; I didn’t, and at the moment, I can’t choose my head of state. And I certainly wouldn’t advocate swearing allegiance to the flag but to the people and safety therefore for our MPs. And who is more strident, republicans like myself or people I mentioned who call people like me traitors?

  • Although I find Baker annoying at times as he is a little anal he is ruddy effective and gets under the skin of both the govt and the Tories. Respeck !!!

  • Rather ironic that the gutter newspapers who are so noisily denouncing Norman Baker are the very ones that undermined the standing of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha dynasty by publicising some of their sexual pecadilloes.

    Incidentally, the owner of the “Sun” is a citizen of the United States of America, which is a republic. And he takes his orders from the elected Vice-President of that republic.

    MPs should be answerable to their constituents, not an unelected Head of State. The oath is a meaningless gesture and it is time it was scrapped. Well-done, Norman.

  • Hywel Morgan 9th Aug '08 - 11:02am

    Is Peter Kilfoyle supporting this – he said that he thinks that MPs have a contract with the constituency electorate

  • Just clocked Tebbit’s comment.

    That made me laugh and think of the old song title “Still crazy after all these years”

  • Andrew Turvey 9th Aug '08 - 12:39pm

    In fairness to Norman Baker, he himself said:

    “I don’t pretend that this is the most significant issue of the day (although it does seem to have caught the attention of the media). I would of course rather the media reported in more detail the many good transport policies I am responsible for promoting for the Lib Dems.”

    Putting down an EDM takes very little effort! Those accusing him of lacking the right focus should bear that in mind.

  • Yes, Jennie, because imagine being able to do more than one thing at a time. Its just an early day motion and a little media work, its not like these MP’s have dropped everything to become full time republicans. Its hardly and less important that all the potholes and the like we involve ourselves with in community politics, or many other MP’s side issues- Campaign for Real Ale, say.

    I don’t think there is any situation in which you wouldn’t make such calls. You disagree with them, great, talk about that not disingenous cries of time wasting.

    Also, they are calling for MP’s not to swear to the queen, not to get rid of her. Attack the point being made, if you will.

  • Karen Roberts 9th Aug '08 - 1:04pm

    Well done Norman. About time this outdated practice was stopped – the monarchy have no place in today’s society, and are paricuarly irrelevant in Wales.

  • Jennie, Christians can have representation in any legislature if they want it. Across Europe the Christian Democrats have done quite well, and there are plenty of people who vote the catholic pro-choice line in parliament. Reserved places are totally unjustified.

  • Yellow on the doorstep 9th Aug '08 - 3:11pm

    I think Norman Baker is just plain wrong on this one. its just cost the libDems my vote and any chance I’ll do anything to help them come the general election!

    Maybe thats why we never win big.

  • Martin Land 9th Aug '08 - 3:34pm

    My question to Norman is “Who gives a s**t?” Oliver Cromwell, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington all swore oaths of allegiance to British Monarchs.

  • Mat, you make a false dichotomy. Personally I would prefer to simply ditch the system involving a seperate head of state and institute a chancellorship, as per Japan and Germany. This would be perfectly easy to implement along with a move to a proportional system. Since we are happy having the executive power in the government, lets formalise it that way and chuck out the rest.

    I agree with you that this is all outside the point of what Norman is advocating. However, while a couple of posts did say the like republicanism the debate around it was started by those against this proposal rushing to declare constitutional monarchy great as their position against this proposal.

  • Dynastic monarchy or not our Head of State is not merely symbolic, but the embodiment and representative of our sovereignty and freedom. And he/she is the final defence against tyrrany.

    I don’t believe in oaths or swearing, but if you’ve got to announce your primary and overriding intention then I’m sure everyone here will agree we believe in defending our freedom, the liberties secured by our state and in using the tools of our state to maximise our individual and collective potentials.

    In terrorising our Head of State (as this proposal does) we demonstrate we are able to prevent the state terrorising us, and we would miss that ability if it were lost.

    So I will happily defend Norman Baker’s right to support the overthrow of our Monarchy, but I won’t support him in this campaign.

  • Laurence, times always change and they don’t always change in the same direction.

    My hunch is that we will continue to have a monarch, but a reformed House of Lords will confirm his/her election, which may mean any future members of the House of Windsor could continue to hold the crown.

    Unless there is some kind of major war which breaks our constitution.

  • Oranjepan wrote:

    “Dynastic monarchy or not our Head of State is not merely symbolic, but the embodiment and representative of our sovereignty and freedom. And he/she is the final defence against tyrrany.”

    Eh? Charles Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glück-Beck (the heir to the throne) has expressed his support for child-beating and military conscription. So how is he going to defend us from tyranny when he has stated that he wishes to subejct us to it?

  • You are right Mat, I can’t believe I said Japan didn’t have an emperor! I don’t know what I was doing in that post.

    However, while Germany does have a president, theirs along with Switzerland, Greece, Estonia and others is selected by the legislature. This means they are cheap, not requiring expensive elections or the stately expenses of a monarch. This system also removes soft and hard power from the position, creating the miminimum figurehead.

    So basically I am advocating that a ceremonial President can be far easier to implement than you have made out, being just a parliamentary appointment and far cheaper than the current set-up.

  • It’s about time we had a proper debate about the monarchy. Their whole existence is sustained by myths, e.g…

    they cost less than elected heads of state (not true: Ireland £3m, Germany £10m, monarchy £37m)

    they boost tourism (not true: Palace of Versailles (ex-home of French royals) – 10m tourists each year, Buckingham Palace 400k tourists each year, Legoland Windsor gets more tourists than Windsor Castle… and the top paying tourist attraction in 2006 was the Tower of London – think about it!)

    they keep the Union together (not true: it is under huge pressure already without monarchy even coming into the debate!)

    they ensure political stability (not true: the fortune of being on an island has done more for stability over the years than the monarchy, and anyway, we have had what could be called a civil war going on (N.Ireland) until relatively recently! If monarchy equaled stability, then how do you explain Thailand’s 17 coups since WWII?)

    etc, etc…

    No good argument for keeping the monarchy, just excuses.

  • Well Mat, I’m only debating on the internet. Its certainly not an issue I am going to go to the trenches over- I agree that improving governance is more important. I’m happy to advocate it where it is discussed, but its nowhere near the top of my list of priorities.

    William, I agree that there are no truly good arguments for keeping the monarchy. However, there is simply no popular will for change. Even the SNP can’t agree on being republican, never mind the general public.

  • Martin Land 10th Aug '08 - 2:13pm

    Let’s look a few years down the road and we will, perhaps, be able to see the social progress we have made as a nation over the last 100 years:
    King: William V (old Etonian)
    PM: David Cameron (old Etonian)
    Mayor of London: Boris Johnson (old Etonian)

  • I want to reiterate the argument that our constitution as represented by our Head of State is the last line of defence against absolute tyrrany. That the monarchy might also be the first step in it’s partial imposition is neither here nor there because there is always a trade off to be made between concepts of autonomy and authority in our common interest.

    The statements that the current heir has made which are at odds with public opinion are what raises a question mark over his personal suitability for the role, as they indicate he could br responsible for provoking a constitutional crisis once crowned.

    But still I think it is far better that we tailor our institutions around the personality or range of personalities which occupy them than to construct them anew in the abstract with every fact that can be added.

  • Oranjepan, you are falling into the very American way of thinking. It is not the constitution as it has historically come to be that is so important. It is the commitment of civil society to constitutional governance- that is after all from whence all the power of the constitution stems, not the prescence or lack of a monarch.

    There is no particular reason why a change in constitution would change this commitment. Or do you really believe that if Australia had voted to become a republic that it would now be more prey to the forces of tyranny than it was previously? I do not think this is very realistic.

    Really, you last line just says its better not to change things than to change as a sweeping statement, showing your arguments conservative basis.

  • Tinter, I think that’s unfair.

    I don’t propose that the constitution is a piece of paper, but the established framework of relationships between actual people in their official capacities.

    In other words we admit essentially the same thing with only slight difference in emphasis.

    What is missing from thie discussion is the understanding that many of our definitions overlap in their conceptualisation of the situation.

    For example the US Presidency bears many of the hallmarks of monarchic state, including executive power over an institutional heirarchy, aspects of hereditary inheritance and a seat which echoes a cheaper version of Buckingham Palace. And yet there are plenty of extreme views to be heard which claim their republic behaves tyrannically!

    As a liberal I don’t agree that republican dogma is necessarily consequent to current circumstances and I disagree that opposing dogma is a conservative trait.

  • Disagreeing with repulicanism is one thing. However, the arguments that you advance were that a change in agreements necessarily carries an increased risk of tyranny. I do not think it is unfair to call this a conservative assertion.

    I don’t think its quite the same. I am emphasising nothing to do with the current hierachy, or even the general hierachy.

    Rather, I am refering to society as a wholes will that there be such a system whatsoever, not its attachment to a current one.

    So long as constitutional means are used to advance any constitutional change with public support, there is no increased risk of tyranny just because of the change having occured, as society will remain commited to constitutional democracy as a concept.

    Since I don’t support an executive presidency I’m going to leave your analogy aside. I am not suggesting a republic will give us greater proof against tyranny- I just disagree with you that there would be an increase in risk.

  • Tinter, you’re making inferences which aren’t there.

    I think we both oppose tyrrany and dogma and we both seek any changes to be made on an agreed basis.

    It is possible that the only difference between us is the perspective we choose to emphasise, ie whether any form of limited tyrrany is acceptable or how to minimise any existing tyrrany. Is there more than a hair’s bredth between the two?

    I was trying to advance the idea that obsolete definitions condition our perception of our arguments in a way which isn’t always helpful to the causes we promote.

    In some senses our UK constitutionalism already engenders many republican ideals of democratic accountability and shows how republicanism can successfully be integrated within a monarchic system, however I think we both agree that nothing is perfect and improvements will be possible.

    So your idea of ‘civic commitment’ to ‘constitutional governance’ is entirely in-keeping with the need to adapt government to constituent membership of the polity or nation, albeit through legitimated consent.

    The question we face, therefore, is how to prove legitimate consent in some demonstrable form: if free and fair elections confer legitimacy on the body of representatives who provide consent on our behalf, how do the representatives prove their prior commitment to that body without some form of ritual oath to a ceremonial figure of authority? And; if there is no other way, is it better that any such figure is a dull and grey human being or a dead and unresponsive iconic symbol?

    As above, it is surely possible to argue that our current Queen is the closest we can get to having both at the same time.

  • Mike Falchikov 10th Aug '08 - 10:55pm

    Rather too much hot air in these columns. As I understand it, NOrman Baker was not calling for the abolition of the monarchy, as such. What we do need in Britain is a written constitution and any legislator would be required to swear allegiance to that constitution (whatever form the head of state) as well, perhaps, as his/her constituents. On the question of whether a constitutional monarchy provides protection against tyranny, there is evidence both ways. In Spain, the post-FRanco monarchy in the person of Juan Carlos was undoubtedly importantin the early days in fending off threats to the still fragile democracy. This no doubt stemmed from Juan Carlos’s personality and his life experience, not least the example of his feeble cousin , the King of Greece, who bowed to the colonels and lost his throne. It would be interesting to know the nature of the oath that parliamentarians in the Scandinavian and Dutch monarchies are required to swear. This is an interesting topic and one which requires some common sense, some constitutional knowledge and a little less raving.

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