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A “British Values Oath:” What on Earth Could That Be?

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A few days ago, the UK Conservative cabinet minister Sajid Javid, the son of Pakistani immigrants, proposed that every public office-holder (i.e. all elected officials, civil servants, and council workers) should swear an oath of allegiance to “British values”.

Javid said the oath could include phrases such as “tolerating the views of others even if you disagree with them”, as well as “believing in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from abuse … a belief in equality, democracy, and the democratic process” and “respect for the law, even if you think the law is an ass”.

These are fine-sounding phrases, especially when one considers who they are coming from.  Before he entered politics, Javid was a director and board member of Deutsche Bank from 2000 to 2009.

Phil Mattera’s excellent Corporate Rap Sheet has a long section on Deutsche Bank (DB).   In the period when Javid was one of the people at its helm, DB had a long series on run-ins with financial sector regulators in the US and UK.  These continue to this day, but our concern is with the period when Javid was a senior executive at DB.

In 2002 three US agencies—the SEC, the New York Stock Exchange and NASD (the U.S. industry regulator now known as FINRA)—fined DB Securities $1.65 million for failing to preserve e-mail archives that could be consulted in enforcement actions.  To put it in plainer language:  DB destroyed evidence that could be used against them in a legal case.

In 2003 the SEC penalized DB $750,000 for violating conflict of interest rules by not disclosing its role in advising Hewlett-Packard on the acquisition of Compaq Computer while its asset management wing was voting its clients’ proxies in favor of the deal.

In 2004 Britain’s Financial Services Authority fined DB’s Morgan Grenfell unit £190,000 for program trading violations.

In the same year, NASD fined DB $5.29 million for charging excessive commissions in the allocation of shares of initial public offerings.

Later in 2004, NASD fined DB $5 million for corporate high-yield bond trading violations.

Also in 2004, the SEC announced that DB would pay $87.5 million to settle charges of conflicts of interest between its investment banking and its research operations.

In 2005 the Federal Reserve and the New York State Banking Department announced that DB had agreed to take steps to improve its policies designed to prevent money laundering by customers.

In 2006 the UK Financial Services Authority fined DB £6.3 million for “failing to observe proper standards of market conduct” in transactions involving shares of Scania and Cytos Biotechnology.

Also in 2006, DB agreed to pay $208 million to US federal and state agencies to settle charges of market timing violations.

During this period, DB chief executive Jose Ackermann personally paid €3.2 million to settle criminal charges that he and other directors of the German telecommunications company Mannesmann awarded excessive bonuses to Mannesmann executives.

In 2007 DB agreed to pay $25 million (and give up $416 million in unsecured claims) as part of a legal settlement over its dealings with the Enron Corporation.

In 2009 the SEC announced that DB would provide $1.3 billion in liquidity to investors alleged by the SEC to have been misled by DB regarding the risks associated with auction rate securities.

In the same year, DB was sharply criticized for using a private detective to spy on activist investors as well as some DB employees. Several executives were fired as a result.

In September 2016, the US Department of Justice fined DB $14 billion for mis-selling mortgages dating back to 2005.

Javid was of course not personally responsible for any of the above, but since he was on the board of directors of a bank that was oozing malfeasance on so palpable a scale, the question of the character of the leadership he provided at DB is one that is bound to be raised (especially since it is estimated by the Guardian that he made up to £3m a year at DB, sufficient to pay for 2 London houses costing £4m and £2m).

Someone in this position may be well advised to refrain from holding forth on “respect for the law”, but hypocrisy and disingenuousness are a well-worn carapace for Conservative politicians.

At any rate, given the length of their bank’s rap sheet, DB’s executives must surely have believed the law deserved to be treated as an ass.   So why purport to respect it, let alone have an oath which demands this respect?

Javid’s proposed oath of allegiance to “British values” is simply asinine.  He’s acknowledged that identifying these “values” would not be easy, which is a complete understatement– any such attempt at identifying “British values” is going to be riddled with incoherence, arbitrariness, and bogus mythologizing.

A Tory like Javid wants to enshrine a commitment to “freedom of speech” in his proposed oath, at the very moment his party is seeking to prohibit public bodies from boycotting companies producing goods in the illegal Israeli settlements constructed on Palestinian land.   “Freedom of speech”, like tolerance, can be highly selective when it comes to the scope given it by those who run the show.

And as for a pledged commitment to “democracy”, instead of sequestering himself in his banking-pal circles, Javid should speak to any Catholic in Belfast or Londonderry who was there during the Troubles of the 1970s and 80s.  They would tell him it simply did not exist.  People accused of being terrorists were routinely framed by the police, which led to years in prison, until the accused were freed when judicial reviews that had to be campaigned for year after year made it clear that a massive miscarriage of justice had occurred.

“Values” tied to nationalistic fantasies tend invariably to be confected and atavistic, serving as placeholders for sometimes pernicious mythemes nearly always tied to notions of blood and soil.  The exemplars are many.   Nazism’s das Volk, the Malay nationalist “bumiputra” (literally, “son of the soil”) but more or less loosely applied to anyone who happens to be a Muslim (in this way supplying a spurious biological-geological rationale for an Islamic theocracy), the various “chosen peoples” (the arch principle of the Zionist enterprise), and so forth.

The concomitant of such practices of naming and describing is the designation of those who somehow don’t qualify– the supposedly inferior races, the infidel, the deviant, the people deemed not to be “chosen”, any kind of outcast such as the leper of old.

The typical operation associated with these practices is that of distancing.  Who, after all, happens to be remote in relation to “British values”?

Well, well, it’s the immigrant with broken English who can’t assimilate as well as—gasp! — our banker friend Javid.

It’s the colonized Irish, Scots, or Welsh person whose basic disposition is to flip a finger at all things English.

It’s those of us on the ultra-left who have zero-tolerance for Deutsche Bank (and by implication economic parasites such as Sajid Javid).

It’s those who adhere to anything “foreign” — those who love “smelly” curries, those who eat without a knife and fork, those who speak those confounded babbling languages, those whose religions involve going to a place of worship that is most definitely not a church, those with unacceptable ways of dressing (such as a hijab or turban).

The UK is a multi-ethnic society, with all the complexities that accompany this situation.  The least productive way to deal with these complexities is to require its people to take an oath of allegiance to a set of risible fictions devised by the ruling order and its henchmen such as Sajid Javid.

But finding workable and democratically acceptable solutions to a complex and messy situation may not be what is intended by the Javids of this world.

Grabbing headlines from the UK’s notorious right-wing tabloids may be what this farcical proposal is all about.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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