John Bercow's coat of arms
Speaker John Bercow has commissioned his coat of arms. So tackily implausible is the design that His Grace thought the whole thing was a bit of gilded mockery. Perhaps it ought to have come as no surprise that it is, in fact, deadly earnest.
The symbolism is utterly banal: blue and red are the colours of the main political parties, representing John Bercow’s own journey. The ladder (regressing right to left) represents his ascent from humble beginnings to one of the highest offices of state. The balls represent his fondness for tennis: they are four to represent the constituent countries of the United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The sabres are not a nod to the Arab-Muslim world, but are drawn from the Essex coat of arms (where Mr Bercow went to university). The motto – All Are Equal – is interspersed with pink triangles, this being the symbol on Nazi concentration camp badges to identify male prisoners who were sent there because of their homosexuality. It has since been appropriated by the gay rights movement. The banner is lined with the spectrum of the rainbow, signifying the Speaker’s support for lesbian and gay rights.
If you aren’t yet retching with incredulity (not least at this £15k waste of taxpayers’ money on such an absurd vanity project), His Grace would like to explore the motto a little. ‘All Are Equal’ – what does it mean?
That all should be treated equally when similarly situated in morally relevant respects? Which of these similarities count as relevant? What constitutes treatment? Is the equality concerned with the same basic human rights, or is it about fostering a more general equality of condition? Is this equality before the law? Equality of political power? Equality of opportunity for social and economic advancement? Equality of resources? Equality of welfare? Equality of freedom? Equality of respect?
Is not inequality natural? Are we not born unequal? Are not some gifted with genetic advantage? Since complete equality is impossible for all people, the only meaning of the motto can be the aspiration for a reduction in inequality. This being so, His Grace would urge all MPs to treat the Speaker as their equal: not to accord him reverence or respect; not to get out of his way as he walks down the corridors of the Palace of Westminster; not to obey his commands in the chamber; and not to believe he is in any sense superior to them, for all are equal.
Unless, of course, John Bercow is more equal than others.