These Aren’t ‘British Values’

D. Cameron – Britain’s increasingly hard-line right-wing prime minister – wants to go to war.

Well, we’re already at war, of course – at least, so he tells us: we’re facing the “struggle of our generation”, because “There are people born and raised in this country who don’t really identify with Britain”.

I’d have to put my hand up here. Yep. Born and raised. Forty-year veteran of living in the UK, and I don’t really ‘identify’ with Britain.

Well, I’d better qualify that, I guess, before I end up on Dave’s watch-list (hi, there, GCHQ; hope you’re having a good shift).

I ‘identify’ Britain as the country I live in. So there’s that. It’s the country I was born in, thanks to a genetic lottery that could have put me anywhere else on the planet had the dice rolled just slightly differently. You use dice in a lottery, right? Wha’evs.

I ‘identify’ Britain as the country I pay taxes to. It’s fair enough: I use the collective resources available in the country, like the NHS, so I pay the money that’s expected of me; just as I probably would had I been born anywhere else (assuming such resources were made available, of course – I might’ve been born in the USA and subjected to weird ideas about – pfft – ‘rugged individualism’. But I’d probably still have paid my taxes).

I ‘identify’ Britain as the country I’m most familiar with, having spent… let me work this out… 99.72% of my life in it.

And I identify Britain as quite a pretty country. It’s still got some lovely scenery the developers haven’t managed to concrete over yet; and even its towns and cities are, for the most part, quite nice as towns and cities go.

Where I have trouble with my ‘identity’, I think, is in my utter inability to feel anything for a piece of cloth – even this one:

In short, I’m British because I was born and raised here, and I’ve been brought up to see things from a primarily British point of view. I’m not British because of any particular merit, either mine or Britain’s. I struggle to feel pride in my country when had I been born in France I’d be expected to be just as proud of being French.

I’m also hindered in ‘being properly British’ by the fact that I don’t want to be British if I can be European. And, for the record, just in case, I wouldn’t want to be European if I could be, for want of a better word, Terran.

Britain is a nation, and nations are – I truly believe – a huge problem and a massive, massive millstone around humanity’s neck. Given the choice of being a citizen of Britain or a citizen of Earth, I would abandon Britain in a picosecond. But given that same opportunity I would abandon any country in just as short a time.

What Dave’s doing is conflating ‘identification’ with a country with ‘willingness to abide by its laws and uphold its values (even if those values, while noble enough, aren’t really exclusive to the country in any case)’. I have no animosity towards Britain. I would not seek to hurt its people or undermine its structure – any more than I’d do that in or to any other country. I want people to thrive; I want them to enjoy the relatively short time we all have on this Earth. I want humanity to rise, to do well. I don’t want us – the people of this planet – to sink under the weight of our own short-sightedness and our own squabbling.  We’ve made a lot of progress in spite of the stupidity we’ve shown to date – but think how much more we could make if we really started to learn.

Dave’s scrabbling at the idea that we face people – radicals and extremists – who don’t identify with British values. So what’s a British value?

According to OFSTED, the organisation responsible for ensuring the consistency and quality of education in British schools, British values are:

  • democracy
  • the rule of law
  • individual liberty and mutual respect
  • tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs

Quite evidently, these aren’t ‘British values’ so much as ‘the values I’d expect to be upheld in any decent society’ – again, had the game of life put me in a different starting location, there’s at least a reasonable chance that these same values, or some not far off, would be espoused.

So these are actually nothing to do with being British, and everything to do with being a decent and civilised human being. I aspire to that standard (others will have to judge my success), and I do value these values, even though I don’t ‘identify’ with Britain in the way that Dave obviously expects that I should.

I believe, for example, in democracy. That means that a country should be entitled to vote, openly and clearly, for its own governance. That means that a political faction that a quarter of the population voted for shouldn’t have absolute power.

I believe in the rule of law. That means that I will obey the laws for the good of my society even when those laws prevent me doing what I want to do; and I will hold everyone else to that same standard. And if I have a specific problem with a law, then I will use legal means to make my concerns known. I will write; I will vote; and – where I feel particularly strongly about something – I will protest. In return I expect the law to treat people with respect; to treat them as equal in value to all others; to afford them the proper opportunity to defend themselves if accused; and to observe their human rights in spirit as well as in letter.

I believe in individual liberty and mutual respect. That means that I believe people should be left to their own devices wherever possible, and that law should act only to mediate the overlap between individuals’ rights.

Finally, I believe in tolerance of different faiths and beliefs, even – no, especially – when such faiths and beliefs are unfamiliar and make me uncomfortable. That’s when tolerance becomes difficult, but it’s also when it becomes most important. I believe that it’s intolerant to represent, either deliberately or negligently, a body of people of a particular faith or heritage or culture as being untrustworthy, or dangerous. I believe it’s morally indefensible to promote such a misrepresentation and – consequently – that it’s a violation of those British values.

In short, given that he’s demonstrated a stance opposed to each one of these values, I don’t believe Mr Cameron is the right person to be lecturing me or anyone else on how we should identify with Britain.

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