#60. County Councillor’s Report, November edition of the (Highley) ‘Forum’: the significance of symbolism in civic affairs.

County Councillor’s Report

Excepting my RAF years from 1959 to 1965, I’ve been known to have a bit of an anti-Establishment “attitude”, doubtless because of a dry/wry sense of humour that has meant I’ve always had a bit of a job taking seriously people who take themselves too seriously, but I’ve nevertheless always respected the views of others as long as they haven’t tried to thrust their views down either my throat or the throats of others.

Sincerely held beliefs are deserving of respect unless they are extreme and impact adversely on the lives of others. I’m an atheist and have been for as long as I can remember, but I believe that religious principles are the basis of any civilised, caring society and as such are central to the principles of democracy because they are the basis of the civic principles upon which an orderly society are based.

Just as religious symbolism is important to the communicating of religious principles, so civic symbolism is important to the communicating of civic principles, “the panoply of State”, whether the Monarch’s ‘opening of parliament’ or the small ceremony that marks the opening of full council at Shirehall, when a bell is rung and everyone stands for the prayer that precedes official business. You don’t need it explaining, you just know that something “important” is going on, and even if the significance isn’t obvious to you, you appreciate its importance to someone.

Out of respect for the beliefs of others and to show deference to those principles of democracy, I stand throughout that little opening ceremony because it costs me nothing and reminds me that others hold to different beliefs.

I always remember what we “sprogs” (new recruits) were told when we were first on parade in our blue serge uniforms and had the technique of saluting drilled into us along with the explanation of the significance of the cap badge.

Each of the armed services has a different way of saluting. In the RAF, palm facing forward, finger tips one inch behind the right eye; in the army, palm facing forward, edge of index finger above the right eye; the navy, palm down, index finger above the right eye)

The crown on the cap badge was what mattered because it was symbolic of what we had joined up to defend. As explained by the sergeant instructing us on why we were expected to salute officers:

“Even though you scrawny lot are not old enough to be trusted with a vote in this democratic country of ours” – most of us were 151/2 or 16 at a time when you had to be 21 to vote – “the head of the British state is the Queen, and what does the Queen wear on her head? A crown. THAT’S what you’re saluting. Even if the person wearing that badge is a complete idiot, it’s the QUEEN as represented by that crown that you’re saluting, not the person who holds a commission from her!”

That was our baptism into the significance of symbols, of symbolic ceremony.

Whether it’s saluting that cap badge, standing for the prayers of others, singing the National Anthem, or respecting the procedures of council that engender civilised debate over matters of differences of political opinion. Which is why I was so angry about the disruption of council business by members of Extinction Rebellion at the last Shropshire Council meeting and the unforgivable applauding of that disruption by members of the Labour, LibDem and Green parties.

Such behaviour is bad enough in Parliament, but in what I’ve always vainly believed should be a non-political arena primarily concerned with local issues, it was incredibly disheartening.

But also revealing.

Dave Tremellen

Independent Councillor for Highley Ward of Shropshire Council.