“I, […], do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and successors, according to law.”
The above is the Affirmation of Allegiance required to be taken by applicants for British citizenship, at one of New Labour’s more inane gifts to the nation, the Citizenship Ceremony. Any applicant for British citizenship has to attend such a ceremony within six months of their application being accepted. Failure to do so means that one’s application is deemed unsuccessful, and that the whole tortuous process must be started again.
I recently found myself attending such a ceremony as a guest, struggling to keep a straight face as the Lord Mayor of Bristol, in his full regalia, informed us, while standing in front of a picture of the Queen, that, in Britain, “No-one is above the law.”
Twenty-three new citizens, plus their guests, were present to hear the Lord Mayor eulogise about the Greatness of Britain and its democratic institutions. Tellingly, however, he opened his speech by reiterating a couple of questions from the Citizenship Test (analogous to the Theory component of a driving test), which all of the new Citizens were required to have passed before reaching this stage. Unaccountably, not one of them could remember the literal meaning of Prime Minister or how many members the Welsh Assembly has.
I took some small encouragement from the fact that slightly more citizens chose to take the Affirmation of Allegiance, rather than the Oath (which beings, “I […] swear by Almighty God). However, the overall effect reminded me of nothing more than a school assembly, with a hall full of bored students intoning words to prayers which they find more or less meaningless.
And this, of course, is the point. The whole process has less to do with “citizenship” per se than with reminding workers who have often overcome massive difficulties and obstructions in order to be allowed to settle here (admittedly not the case for the person whose guest I was) of precisely who is the boss, and showing that they are expected to be good little boys and girls.
Needless to say the proceedings ended with the playing of the National Anthem. Not wishing to embarrass my partner, I confess that I did stand up for the wretched dirge (albeit with my fingers firmly crossed throughout!).
Surely the world can be organised more sanely than this? Why should it not be the birthright of every human being to settle in any part of our planet (or even to continuously travel around it, should one so require), and be accepted as an equal member of one’s community without having to participate in silly ceremonies to prove one’s worthiness to do so? Why should we have to swear (or affirm or whatever) Allegiance to anyone? As Leon Rosselson wrote in his song “The World Turned Upside Down”, “This world was made a common treasury, for everyone to share.” However, until the world’s working class unites consciously and politically to ensure that the treasury can indeed be shared, a minority class with retain control and the rest of us will continue to be expected to be grateful when we’ve passed enough of their patronising “tests” (and, of course, have sufficient funds) to be able to relocate from one part of the planet to another.
SHANE ROBERTS, Bristol.