I am a civil servant in the UK – this is my personal blog. As part of my job, I have to follow the Civil Service Code which, among other things, says I’m not allowed to be political at work.
- serve the government … no matter what your own political beliefs are
- comply with any restrictions that have been laid down on your political activities
You must not:
- act in a way that is determined by party political considerations
- allow your personal political views to determine any advice you give or your actions.
That’s probably a good thing. I should execute my duties without regard to my personal political feelings. If an elected official asks me to do something, I shouldn’t refuse or undermine them if I voted for a different party.
If I turned up to work wearing a t-shirt saying “Vote for the Whig Party!” I’d probably be sent home.
But what if I wore a badge which said “Votes For Women” and displayed the suffragette colours? Now that women have the vote, is the symbol still political?
Well, the suffragette flag has done a tour of civil service buildings – and senior staff have happily posed with it.
The #suffrageflagrelay has now finished. Thank you to everyone who volunteered, cheered us on and joined in via twitter. Thank you to @SMcDonaldFCO @JoannaRoperFCO @MatthewRycroft1 @diploeconomist for the tremendous #globalsuffrageflagrelay @XgovCentenary #followtheflag pic.twitter.com/TGwIrjZg5G
— SuffrageFlagRelay (@SuffrageFlag) December 14, 2018
Undoubtedly there are probably still a few people who think extending the vote to women was a bad idea and should be rescinded. But that is so far outside of the mainstream that I don’t think a complaint would be upheld.
What about other political symbols?
I’m proud to wear a rainbow lanyard at work. It is a sign off allyship with my LGBT+ colleagues (other acronyms are available). It is a visible sign that as an employer – and as an individual – we will stand up for equal rights, and tackle homophobia and transphobia.
— Terence Eden (@edent) July 8, 2019
Is that a political symbol?
The USA banned the flying of rainbow flags from its embassies. Some modern political candidates can be quite open in their desire to roll back equal rights. It is a political symbol, right?
How proud are we?! @DefenceHQ is now lit up in Rainbow 🌈 colours for the first time ever. This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the lifting of the ban on LGB staff in our Armed Forces. #WholeForceInclusion #DiversityInDefence #LGBT2020 #TeamDefence pic.twitter.com/k9hWEW5xH9
— MOD LGBT (@MODLGBT) January 10, 2020
A quick conversation with some of my gay and bi friends found a split opinion. “Pride is a riot – and the rainbow flag is a symbol of political protest” said one. Someone else thought it was so mainstream due to rainbow-washing (where companies use Pride as a marketing tool) that it was meaningless.
Another pointed out this part of the Civil Service Code:
You must carry out your responsibilities in a way that is fair, just and equitable and reflects the Civil Service commitment to equality and diversity
Equality is a political position. But it is one which is (fairly) mainstream and thus has the appearance of neutrality.
But nothing is truly neutral.
My personal political views on universal suffrage and gay rights may happen to be reasonably mainstream, but I’ve chatted with people at work who are uncomfortable wearing a rainbow. Some because they think people will think they’re gay, some because it might be seen as appropriation, and some because they don’t believe in the cause behind it.
Thankfully the latter are rare.
But it doesn’t escape my mind that symbols have meanings, and nothing is truly neutral.