I vow to thee my country

Baroness Deech

Vows are much in the news these days. All three party leaders have “vowed” to give Scotland more powers and to do so very quickly. Moreover Gordon Brown has vowed to ensure that this happens (surely he has no relevant status to achieve this?) The word “vow” comes from the Latin votum, which by an interesting coincidence is also the origin of the word vote. So vows are made in order to get votes. But do they mean anything and are they enforceable? Sadly, the answer seems to be no. We know that wedding vows are easily put aside, but vows to voters may be ignored even more lightly, according to law. In my blog of two years ago, Misleading by Manifesto, (http://lordsoftheblog.net/2012/07/06/misleading-by-manifesto), I explained that the judges had recently decided that a promise in election manifesto, no matter how prominent, had no binding force. The case was brought by Stuart Wheeler in an attempt to enforce the promise of a referendum on the European Union Lisbon Treaty. The court’s judgment was that the promise of a referendum,or any other promise in a manifesto, could not be enforced. It was a matter of political judgment, they said, not legal enforceability. Such matters were for Parliament to decide in the light of the politics of the day. The same is true of  the new set of vows, however earnestly made.

The promised speed of enactment of new laws is also problematic. I don’t want to see a repeat of the mode of creation of the Press Regulation Charter, presented to us all as a done deal without prior discussion in Parliament. (The Charter seems to have faded from prominence, while we wait to see if IPSO will succeed.)

The well known patriotic song, or hymn, “I vow to thee my country”, was based on a poem by Cecil Spring Rice written in 1908 and expressed his view of citizens’ dual loyalty, to country and to heavenly kingdom. Later he added verses to mark the huge losses suffered in the first world war. I thought the title very apt as we grapple with loyalty to the UK, to Scotland and to England in this centenary year 2014.

3 comments for “I vow to thee my country

  1. 24/09/2014 at 10:20 am

    I agree with the judges. As with anything in politics, if you aren’t happy with the way the politicians have acted, you get to pass your verdict at the next election. That’s how it should be in a democracy. And while we’re at it, nor do we want policies influenced by the likes of Stuart Wheeler, Brian Souter and Rupert Murdoch.

    How would legally binding manifestos work in the case of coalition government, anyway? Party A says they will do something, party B says they will do the opposite, they reach a compromise in coalition… Perhaps we should let Stuart Wheeler sue both of them!

  2. MilesJSD
    24/09/2014 at 1:02 pm

    A “vow” used to seem to sit half-way between a

    “contract” and a

    the latter of old being a non-contractual undertaking, a mutual promise of no-price-tag “loving”between two or more people;
    such as of familial-love
    whereby if the tea-in-bed is usually got by one family member who falls sick one morning, then another family member steps into the breach and does that service [as a more materialistic instance of covenantal-love; butanswering the phone for another of the family or friendly-household might be an instance; perhaps even “say a prayer for me in church – oh! and put a pound in the collection plate ?” [provided, one must possibly insist, this is accompanied by “here’s the pound”].

    A “vow”, however, may contrarily be stretched to cover ill-will even a vengeance or malevolent matter {“I swear I’ll get even with that p*g one day”},
    as well as being in the main true “loving marriage” vows
    [but the question here must be “would such regular or run-of-the-mill marriage Vows include covenantal as well as contractual vows or elements thereof ?].
    One final ‘new’ little instance that ‘throws’ me:
    Scene: the family dining room, early evening.Mother asks oldest sister “Mary, you lay the table for dinner please ?”
    Mary: “School today, and other mothers are offering £2 a time to get the table laid”.
    Younger brother pipes in: “I bags laying it and look,I do it straight away {sets his hands decisively quickly into unfolding the white linen tablecloth just deposited by mother) and I’m only £1”.

  3. maude elwes
    24/09/2014 at 1:29 pm

    Baroness, this thread title is significant on so many levels. A vow by politicians means exactly as you describe, which is why I found it hard to understand the Scottish vote result. Assuming the No vote wasn’t rigged as many believe it to be.

    That aside, the darkness of this court ruling has not been splashed over our media, as one imagined it should, because of its relevance to the citizen or subject. In our infantile belief we live in a democracy, the court ruling you metion puts us all straight, declares openly the ‘promises’ made by any political group are in fact farcical. They mean nothing. A proof that the intention of any government is to dupe and mislead to whatever extent it feels necessary to get a high number of votes and pretend a mandate. None of which makes sense.

    There is no sense in having a manifesto, an annual conference or any such overtly misleading meetings confirming the chosen political path, as what is discussed, spread around or implied is simply a charade to further an idea of civilian support in running this ‘show’ of ours.

    Surely the very least we could expect is media interest in a law that alleviates this group of individuals from any ‘promise’ or ‘vow’ to the nation on their intention of leadership path. Why ask support, via a ballot, for non enforceable or even intended practice? But, I suppose that is asking for honesty and the population instinctively knows they are fed, by any political party, treachery, and why so many don’t vote at all. The poor trusting Scots believed, when they had that referendum of separation from Westminster, their vote would actually count. Which was why the turn out was so high. It had been important to them. Now they find that, A) perhaps the count was fixed, or, equally or more disgusting, B) those ugly faces that crawled up north to flog them a crock of brown had no intention other than to dupe.

    And Salmond must have known they were lying through their teeth, as did Darling. He who had the nerve to spout unity for Westminster, after leading the nation into financial ambush by the yanks from that very place. This is what they like to forget as they try to line us up again to kill that enemy of their enemy.

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