The late Baron Stratford was one of the most colorful characters to grace the British politics in the recent years. As plain the Rt. Hon. Tony Banks, he and his acidic wit served with distinction in the House of Commons. It was Banks who christened Tory leader William Hague as a “foetus”, adding that Conservative MPs might be rethinking their views on abortion.
His most controversial moment came when he was seen crossing his fingers when he took the oath of allegiance to the Queen. Since Banks was a fervent republican, there were much controversy, although Banks always insisted he was wishing himself luck in his new job as Minister for Sport.
The 500-year old oath has never been without controversy. At one point in 1998, even 15 dukes (including three royals) refused to swear it. At the start of each new parliament, all MPs take the oath, swearing on a bible or an equivalent sacred text: “I [name] swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.” The wording varied from parliament to parliament (it used to be so much longer). Non-believers and those like Quakers whose religion makes oaths objectionable, affirm: “”I [name] do swear that I will be faithful…” Many MPs think it should be scrapped; on the other hand a similar oath was proposed to be enacted in schools.
And there were those like Banks who brought humor to the occasion. John Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, mumbled the words. Dennis Skinner, ad-libbed “and all who sail on her” after the words Queen Elizabeth. But this is nothing new. There were many MPs and Lords throughout history who pledged their allegiances to the constituents and the “common people” before swearing the oath. Tony Benn prefaced it with, “As a dedicated republican” in 1992, and atheist Charles Bradluagh refused to swear it in 1880, thus beginning first of his four ejection from the House.