We're hearing an awful lot about “British Values” in the press of late. From Cameron's idea that they should be taught in schools to Sajid Javid's latest idea of public officials swearing an oath of allegiance to them, this abstract idea is slowly pervading the public consciousness. But what exactly are they?
Leaving aside the obvious attempt to foster division between natives and newcomers, Britain is a melting pot of cultures, religions and political beliefs. How is it possible to instil a universal set of values, a national moral code if you like? The answer is deceptively simple; you do it by setting an example. This is parenting 101, and This Writer is inclined to believe it works for countries as well.
For example, if we want our children to grow up to be kind, caring and thoughtful, that is how we act in front of them. If we wish our citizens to follow the as-yet largely undefined “British Values,” then our leaders in politics, industry and the media need to exemplify those values.
And therein lies the problem. Whatever desirable values the Conservative Party may once have had, such as a commitment to charity and firm moral commitments, they have long since been eroded and washed away under a tide of callousness and greed.
This is the party that has inflicted brutal austerity measures that disproportionately target the poor, the sick and the vulnerable. The party that consistently votes to take money away from the disabled, lowering their quality of life a little each time. The party that is selling record amounts of advanced weaponry to despotic regimes because, in the immortal words of Boris Johnson, “if we don't somebody else will.”
Now imagine if the reprehensible actions above were distilled down to the actions of an individual British citizen. The list would include taking food from the table of a single mother on a zero-hours contract or stealing a homeless person's hat full of change. It would include taking an MS sufferer's wheelchair from them, or denying someone with Parkinson's a stairlift or mobility aids around their home.
And finally in regard to arms sales, it would be like witnessing a bar fight where someone is waving around a broken bottle, and then selling that person an automatic rifle. Are they the kind of “British Values” we want? Because they're the ones on display at the moment from this government.
The same theory applies for the media. When newspapers like The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Telegraph routinely publish articles based on division, racism, hatred and fear, these ideas become normalised. They fester within the public consciousness until hatred of Muslims becomes socially acceptable, and those unfortunate enough to be unemployed or disabled are labelled as “scroungers.”
What kind of “British Values” are on display there? For a nation that fought tooth-and-nail against hatred, ignorance and bigotry in the 1940's, we seem to be remarkably tolerant of it today. And as for “British Values” in industry... we've been rampant capitalists for over half a millennium, so our current approach of exploitation, privatisation and oppression of the working class is at least rooted in historical “British Values.”
The definition of British Values then, is not what they say it is. It's what they show it is. And quite frankly it's a very poor showing indeed. In fact it goes further than that. It's a monstrous corruption of what This Writer always understood British Values to be. Charity, tolerance, understanding. The desire to help one's neighbour. To care for those more unfortunate than one's self. To set an example in the field of justice, both legal and social. And perhaps most importantly, the desire to fight hatred and oppression. Our entire national psyche is built around the idea of fighting oppression. How sad that we no longer seem to be willing to do so.
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