Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The Double Edge of British Values

I think there is evidence sufficient to justify an inquiry into the alleged infiltration of several Birmingham schools. It might be The Telegraph, but Andrew Gilligan makes a compelling case. All that matters now is that investigations proceed in due course. It is entirely unhelpful and downright opportunist for various papers and the Tories to scrabble for lurid headlines and knee jerk policy announcements, none of which has anything to do with the rise of UKIP and the need to shore up one’s core vote.

While I’m not going to write about the Trojan Horse allegations as such (if only more people kept schtum about things which they know little), our beloved Prime Minister has said something interesting for once. As our Secretary of State for Education has demanded schools teach something called ‘British values’, Dave has had a stab at defining this most vexatious and slippery of terms.
I would say freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions - those are the sorts of things that I would hope would be inculcated into the curriculum in any school in Britain whether it was a private school, state school, faith-based school, free school, academy or anything else.
All very common denominator stuff. All that’s missing is fair play, afternoon tea and cricket. No, to give Dave his dues, this is pretty much what anyone would come up with. You might easily suppose a Pole might say the same about Polishness, a Frenchwoman about Frenchness, and so on. But such is the conceit of each and every national identity.

The one bit I'm going to latch on to is this "respect for British institutions". What does this mean? Knowing Dave and how desperate the Conservatives are, this is a clause allowing them to label certain things as un-British. So, someone like me, a life-long republican, is by default 'un-British' because I do not "respect" the absurd pomp and anti-democratic reserve powers of the monarchy. You can say the same for anyone favouring progressive and socialist policies.

Respect, however, is super slippery. It wouldn't take much to describe everyone who doesn't vote, or has criticised Parliament as a sack of shit as un-British. Or those many millions of motorists who didn't "show respect" to the British car industry and went for something sleek and foreign instead. Or even those Londoners who've downloaded Uber, do they not "respect" the "institution" of the cockney cabbie and their hallowed knowledge?

Everyday folk are un-British, by Dave's definition. Yet even more damning than that is the Conservative Party itself, an organisation that has time and again set itself against the institutions Britain has built up over generations. Let's just keep to the last four years. Say what you like, but I don't think flogging off Royal Mail to the government's city mates on the cheap is the best of British values, let alone respecting a well-loved facet of national life. Speaking of which, there's the NHS too. Since 2010, the NHS has effectively ceased to exist as an entity. What we have instead is a market of state-owned and private health providers competing for the tax payer dollar to provide free (mostly) at the point of need healthcare. This has driven bureaucracy up along with waiting times. Is that "respect for a British institution"?

National identity is a slippery subject, and in this instance it can be turned as a political weapon against near absolutely everyone. If we want to turn this potent brew of ideas, nostrums and sentiments against the Tories, we have to actively fight for it.


Speedy said...

"entirely unhelpful and downright opportunist for various papers"

but very "British" hey, Grub Street and all that.

The misapplication of techniques like immanent critique, drummed in to humanities students over the past decades who then become flag wavers for cultural deconstruction, is surely at the heart of the matter?

The multiculturalism ruthlessly and successfully pursued by said graduates having seized "the means of public policy and implementation" in their cultural revolution is another - those that might have spoken out against such practices have been cowed in to silence ever since Ray Honeyford predicted what has come to pass back in the Eighties.

But it is all based on error - what is good for the cultural studies lab does not apply to the real world. And of course the irony about multiculturalism is that the culture of every one exists except that of the host nation - we are apparently all so guilty of our imperial crimes it would be better if we did not exist. Inverse racism has become the coda among our smug, indoctrinated ruling class.

Of course there is British identity - one based on a complex set of interdependent and constantly shifting factors, but rooted in shared history, culture and tradition.

That one can be a Briton of Pakistani descent, say, is neither here nor there - it is not the problem of the British, which is what, thanks to the cultural revolutionaries, it has all too often become - to the extent that now, in a UK school in 2014, it is seen as acceptable to describe the indigenous women as "white prostitutes". And the likes of Seamus Milne - eminence grise of this brand of intellectual dilettantism - can claim it has nothing to do with extremism.

I'm not sure what Gramsci had in mind exactly - but I'm pretty sure it wasn't this.

asquith said...

There is, imho, such a thing, as British values. And it is often recent imigrants, particularly asylum seekers, who really get this because they feel they can breathe freely at last. Many of these here extremists will have been born and bred in this country, for all the good it's done them...

... and it won't be taught in a class, as much as there might be a case for citizenship classes. You just feel it. And I remember, on a trip to the Wrekin a while back, several Eastern European and Asian imigrants who had come out of Telford were there, and someone made a derogatory coment about them. I decided to respond and to say I for one am glad that people who don't come here are making themselves part of this country and coming to love its landscape and views and that as I do. (He harrumphed and moved away). That's what it comes down to, that you might not be in your "homeland" (which might have violently rejected you) but you can build new home.

What the government really can do to bolster "British values" is to support ESOL more fully. Who would slag people off for not speaking English, then deny them the means of learning, which most of them are desperate to do? Do they think people can just randomly learn, if only they could be arsed? (The way they think poor people should simply stop being poor, and then they won't have a problem.

I am not a republican because I consider that the constitutional monrchy serves a good purpose of providing an above-the-fray had of state. And it's not right to say that the monarchy legitimises inequality per se, it depends far more on other things, which is why the USA is worse on just about every indicator than European monarchies.

That said, most of your ideas are of course old enough to be considered "traditional" (As are mine). And I certainly sugest a reading of "A Radical History of Britain" by Edward Vallance. It is quite amusing to see how dated his introduction has become, despit the fact that it was only written in 2009. But it is my view that this bookk can profitably be read by all and sundry.

Speedy said...

Re America. If you want to see the legacy of ENGLISH values - the birth of that nation was driven by English radicalism and conceptions of liberty - not Indian, German or Nigerian - born of culture and traditions stretching back 1000 years.

Sure, it then went off in its own direction, but it is very much an "Anglo Saxon" culture. Ask the French.