Wednesday, 21 December 2016

"British" values - again!

Our Secretary of State for Local Government. and Communities, Sajid Javid, is toying with the idea of making all civil servants and local government employees, and maybe all immigrants as well, take an oath to uphold British values.  This seems to me to be gesture politics at its daftest.

The "British" values Javid is keen to promote are not yet strictly defined but might include:
  • tolerating the views of others;
  • believing in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from abuse;
  • a belief in equality, democracy, and the democratic process;
  •  respect for the law.
The implication that these values are uniquely or even especially British is an absurd conceit, and an insult to most of our neighbours. They are the values of most  modern democracies and an essential qualification for being eligible for joining the European Union.

 It's a bit rich for a former banker who is alleged to have earned £3m a year before he switched to politics to demand we believe in equality, especially as he's member of a government  which rewards the rich and presides over the bullying of the poor.  And as for respect for the law, his party's chief cheerleader  in the press, the Daily Mail, has called our most senior judges "enemies of the people" when they were asked to consider whether or not his government is acting lawfully..

My own youthful perception of British values were assimilated not by taking oaths but from  low-grade adolescent reading, especially the Biggles novels of W. E. Johns the the Sea Cadet and Scout stories of Percy F. Westerman.  From these I picked up the idea that clean-limbed British boys (there want much reference to girls) were:
  • modest and unassuming;
  • quietly competent;
  • patriotic -  but in an understated way  (no brash flag-waving);
  • reliable -  our "word was our bond;"
  • decent and honest.
Not, alas, a recipe for winning "The Apprentice" or succeeding in politics, or banking, today

An American comic-book hero, I think it might have been Superman, was said to crusade for "truth, justice and the American way."  Substituting "liberalism" for the last one, I think that makes a good set of values:

  • TRUTH: about immigrants, foreign policy, Brexit and its consequences, the distribution of income, conditions in prisons, recipients of social security, the influence of lobbyists, etc. with policy according to facts rather than prejudice.
  • JUSTICE: not just before the law, but economic justice, equality between men and women, the protection of minorities, generous support for  the disadvantaged, removal of artificial advantages (private eduction, perhaps, or even grammar schools), justice for the World's poor.
  • LIBERALISM:  The philosopher Timothy Garton Ash defined this as " a quest for the greatest possible measure of individual human freedom, compatible with the freedom of others."  No more needs to be said.
If these three values permeated our society life would be very pleasant and fulfilling. They will not  be achieved through enforced oaths, but through the example of political and opinion leaders, through art, literature, drama and education.  They will be most quickly achieved if the example comes from the top.

So go to it, Mr Javid: give us a lead.

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