The British government worries that Britain may not be British enough. It worries so much that the Department for Education has instructed schools to promote British values.
Part of this is meant to counter the lure ISIS has on a (let’s be realistic, limited but highly publicized) number of young people, but I seem to remember that they started talking about British values back when Scotland was voting on whether to leave the U.K. So I’m guessing that some more general unease lies behind the decision.
Let me be clear: I take ISIS seriously. Hell, I take Scotland seriously. What I don’t take seriously are people who think “promoting British values” is a response to either of those very distinct entities. Especially since the British values campaign forces everyone to confront the awkward question of what those values are. I mean, they’re not , say, the flag or apple pie. They’re hard to define.
As prime minister, David Cameron defined them as freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility, and respect for British institutions. Nick Clegg, when he was deputy prime minister, added gender equality and equality before the law. Then his party tanked in the elections and no one’s consulted him since. Michael Gove, when he was secretary of education, defined them as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. Awkwardly enough, in 2007 he said trying to define Britishness was “rather un-British.”
Since Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, which should really be OSECSS) will have the joy of assessing the schools’ efforts, it’s published the official set of British values. They’re democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.
Can we tolerate people with different, non-British values? Sorry, the question’s too complicated. Ofsted lives in a true/false culture.
Do other countries hold to these same values and if they do are the values still specifically British? Sorry, that’s not on the test and we can’t discuss it now.
Can we tolerate politicians offering three sets of non-identical British values plus one opinion trashing the whole idea of codifying them? Of course we can, because by now everyone’s swung their weight behind the official version and has forgotten that they didn’t always agree. Except possibly Nick Clegg and, see above, no one consults him anymore.
In joyful response to this attempt at unifying the nation’s beliefs, a whole lot of people cut loose on Twitter under the hashtag #BritishValues. According to The Independent, some of the early tweets summarizing the aforesaid values included:
- Being wary of foreigners while having a Belgian beer with an Indian curry in your Spanish villa wearing Indonesian clothes.
- Queuing; dressing inappropriately when the sun comes out; warm beer; winning World Wars; immigration & Pot Noodles.
- Wearing socks with sandals
- complaining about immigration
The Independent article online was open for comments, and they included a few more suggestions:
- Seeing a rogue traffic cone and immediately working out the nearest sculpture in need of a hat.
- Denouncing immigrants, while we have a royal family made up of immigrants.
- Loving fish and chips even though the potato migrated here from abroad.
The comment thread quickly degenerated into arguments, name calling, and “This comment has been deleted,” so I stopped reading. Instead, I went to Twitter to check out the more recent comments. Not all of them are funny. Some are bitter-edged comments about homelessness and not rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean. Others are about trash in the hedges and dog-poo bags left by the side of the road. But, hey, we try to keep laughing here, even when the world’s going to hell in a handbasket. The lighter tweets included:
- The bloke in front of me just put his entire body weight on my foot & I said sorry.
- Forming an orderly queue.
- Pie and chips done properly!
- Get an exclusive 15% off any order from @TwiningsTea
None of these answers the question (and I do understand that it wasn’t posed as a question) of what British values are, but it does point us in the right direction: Whatever they are, they include an ad for tea and a sense of humor. So brew yourself a nice cup and tell me something silly about British values, would you?
Or American values. Or any other nation’s values. I can’t wait to see where this goes.