A government decides to promote British values

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.

Irrelevant photo: an old shed at Trebarwith Strand.

Irrelevant photo: an old shed at Trebarwith Strand. The pink flowers are red campion. I don’t make this stuff up. Really I don’t.

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.

55 thoughts on “A government decides to promote British values

  1. This government needs to ensure that everyone can get a PROPER cup of tea, anywhere and at any time, preferably with a choice of tiny little cakes or biscuits. My Nan says that there is very little that cannot be solved by a good cup of tea and I think it is the only way to restore the country to its former glory. I want to nominate you for something, but I have no idea what.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. British values:
    Drink tea, don’t show your emotions no matter how upset you are and never do anything to stand out from the crowd!
    Do not under any circumstances jump the queue, but feel free to grumble quietly if someone else does…never under any circumstances confront that person as it would not be polite!
    Always talk about the weather, especially if you can complain about it doing the same thing that it has done every year for as long as everyone can remember!
    Never complain at a restaurant if someone gets your order wrong, just grumble quietly and denounce the establishment to all your friends.
    Always be smug and happy in the belief that you are better than the whole world because Isambard Kingdom Brunel!

    OK…reading that…I don’t think I am British…If it wasn’t for my tendency to wear bowler hats and call my cat politely I would be sure I was from the Foreign!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s just not cricket to talk about British values… Very vulgar. (On a mildly more serious note, cricket metaphors are everywhere-hit for six, bowled over(?), thrown a googly…)
    Thanks for the post, very interesting and thought provoking.
    Best, Matt

    Liked by 1 person

  4. British values. I honestly feel that the British have a huge identity crisis. I agree with Porter Girl wholeheartedly. I always do. Tea, cakes, cucumber/salmon sandwiches, scones/crumpets. Don’t get me started about Ofsted. What’s the difference between an Ofsted inspector and a plastic surgeon ? One of them tucks up features and one of them fucks up teachers.😀😈 My vote is for a global village where we can all hate one another in peace.All the very best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great wisecrack about Ofsted. As for hating each other in peace, it doesn’t sound ideal but it’d be a massive improvement on what we’re all doing now, so yeah, I’ll go for it.


  5. “Respecting British institutions” from the leader of a party that deliberately and systematically has been destroying British institutions each time they have been in power for the last 40 odd years???

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank God the Victoria and Albert have been preserved. Now THERE’S a proper British institution: packed with other people’s stuff from every continent Britain ever ransacked, I mean civilized.
      But If anything ever happens to that giant doll house.. well, then we’ll really know that somewhere the sun HAS set on the..well, you-know-what..

      I vote for a huge statue of Bobby Sands

      Liked by 1 person

      • There’s a plinth in–I think it’s Trafalgar Square that they’ve been rotating artwork onto, some of it interesting and some of it distinctly strange (to my uncivilized eye). Sounds like a perfect place for a permanent statue.


  6. Leave it to the politicians and bureaucrats to screw up something so simple. I suppose they want a platitude to print on a poster – as if a culture steeped in advertising would pay attention to a poster.

    Having moved to a small town, I cannot tell you what our “values” are but I can tell you where to look for them. Our values can be found in the following places:

    – The church basement where volunteers brew coffee, ladle sloppy joes and cut cake at funerals for people they do not know.
    – The rush of pickup trucks when the volunteer fire department siren goes off.
    – The neighbors who neglect their own fields to help out a neighbor who is sick or injured.
    – The clerk at the hardware store who takes the time to show you what you need while three other customers wait at the register.
    – The three customers who visit at the register while the clerk helps the moron from the cities who moved here a couple of years ago.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. British values are whatever the EU in Brussels tell us they are. The only time we seem to pull together as a nation is when we are at war – or when we infrequently win at something (World Cup football, Olympics, Wimbledon) and then we never stop going on about it! We need more wins at something like cake eating and bacon sandwich making. Youtube videos of cute kittens should be compulsory viewing instead of Eastenders, bring your kitten to work day – in fact anything with kittens works for me ..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bring your kitten to work day. I like that. I don’t promise to get any work done, but I really do look forward to it. What’s the date? Or am I getting ahead of the plan here?


  8. I’m going to go for scones with jam and clotted cream available free on the NHS.

    The whole notion is laughable, isn’t it? Isn’t one of Britain’s strengths the fact that it can change things up and evolve? So why try to preserve something in aspic? They will hark back to a bygone era that only exists in fiction in order to draw up their list. Cultural assimilation and borrowing from other countries and their languages would be among the things I would cite as strengths but I don’t think they would qualify as British to the current regime as they are too bloody foreign. I would also cite the NHS but given they want to dismantle and destroy that it likely won’t appear on the curriculum either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed on all points. Especially the scones with jam and clotted cream available on the NHS. For anyone who’s anxious about seeing the doctor (or anyone with high cholesterol, for that matter), they’re bound to help.

      I’ve always felt the same way about the U.S.–one of the things I love is its mix of cultures, assimilated and not-yet-assimilated. They give a culture such life and dynamism. This idea that anyone can pick out THE things that characterize a culture and then get them to multiply in a petri dish, at which point presumably you can inoculate everyone with them is insane. It reminds me of the American tradition of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I’m sure someone thought it would accomplish more or less the same thing. Instead we just tune it out and mumble. Congratulations. That accomplished a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. The whole notion is fascinating from this side of the pond. It seems a very British reaction to all the mayhem and scariness around us now, like a prim teacher clapping her hands and admonishing the children to “remember themselves.”

    Liked by 2 people

  10. We were watching Question Time when this topic came up. The Boffin listened to the panel and said, “Typical. When you don’t know what you are doing, be more British.”

    That is the case with any government. You cling on to something abstract like values when you have no concrete solutions to the problems you are facing. It’s the classic slight-of-hand trick.

    I know what I value. I know what the Boffin values. I think I can talk about national stereotypes, but to say that a nation exhibits values personifies it in a way that I don’t think is realistic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great quote about what to do when you don’t know what you’re doing. And I think you’ve hit it on the head about clinging to the abstract (and, I’d add, waving the flag) when you can’t come up with any real solutions to the all too real problems.


  11. When I was in high school, we had a substitute teacher who had been raised in Britain. She asked what sorts of traits we attributed to the English. Most of us had never thought about it. Finally one guy said that they always have a tissue up their sleeve. She started laughing and pulled a tissue from her sleeve.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s really funny. Of all the traits I would associate with the English–or the British–either as a kid or an adult, it would never be that. But as a kid I did know some old ladies who did it. I thought it was just what old ladies did–when you hit a certain age, you started carrying them there. Or they put themselves there for all I knew.

      Liked by 2 people

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