What It Means To Be British

This morning the Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell (why him? God alone knows, but for now I’ll just call him BR) has been in the papers and hauling his sorry frame around the TV studios wittering on about encouraging schools to teach,’Core British Values’. You’d think, with an increasingly angry strike in the university sector, that he’d have more pressing things to worry about. But no, Bill has decided to introduce this little gem right now.

If anything, this has all the appearance of a classic governemnt knee-jerk after the 7/7 bomb report was published last week. Even when I was at school we had to endure the dreaded Personal and Social Education, which covered just about anything under the sun, from sex to ‘citizenship’. No one listened then and they don’t listen now. It is naive to think that trying to indoctrinate kids in that way would have stopped what happened last July.
There are other issues at play here and fooling on the margins won’t solve those.

More importantly, what are ‘Core British Values’ anyway? BR talks about free speech, democracy, multiculturalism and the rule of law. This is all very well, but in our everyday lives we see the state trample roughshod over all of these these.

Take this example of the value of free speech in action, where a man has tools needed for his job denied to him on the grounds that he was a little critical of a bunch of lentil munchers, who turned out to have little in the way of a sense of humour or critical faculty.

How about the rule of law? Well, until last week the British government seemed fairly happy to condone the detention of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay without trial or even with out charge. And they managed to open up the chance to do it here as well, with the Terrorism Act although they didn’t get the 90 days they wanted. They also seem keen to dispense with jury trials where they can and now seem to like the idea of being able to overrule judges decisions if they don’t like them (if yesterday’s Observer front page story is to be believed). If the Human Rights Act isn’t working, then why didn’t they get their own legislation right in the first place, instead of blaming the judiciary for merely interpeting the bad law that the government laid down in the first place.

And then there’s democracy. A labour government who weren’t even the largest party in England at the last General Election, who have polled progressively fewer votes since 1997 and who, by many calculations manage to be in government in spite of the fact they managed to convince only 1 in 4 of the electorate to bother voting for them, are taling about democracy? Perhaps not.

And what of multiculturalism? Well, the BNP winning so many seats in Barking may have rung some alarm bells, but there are communities all over the country where tensions are rising. There is a feeling amongst many the multicultualism firstly only seems to go one way and secondly, seems to be being foisted upon us. Make no mistake, multiculturalism is good and has huge benfits for everyone. But the way to foster it is not to ram it down people’s throats. This only creates resentment and stops it happeneing. Oddly enough, even though humans are essentially tribal, when push comes to shove, we manage to muddle along and get on if we are just left to get on with it ourselves. Incomers who accept and take part in indigenous culture, while preserving and bringing some of their own identity to the table, seem to be made the most welcome. If we consider things the other way around; look at the reasonable hostility some British ex-pat communities abroad (like Spain) face when they try and create a ‘Little Britain’, and don’t take part in local life or even bother to speak the local language. If you want ot live somewhere else, that should be part of the deal, I’m afraid. Assimilate or die (metaphorically speaking).

In the face of situations like this BR, how do you expect anyone to listen when the government start talking about welding ‘Core Values’ onto a school curriculum that is already overloaded and probelmatic enough as it is. Why don’t you go and do some real work and help the unions and UCEA sort out a strike that need not be causing so much damage to students. That’s your job, not prattling on about this.


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