Are you scared of British values?

Almost every country in the world is associated with certain values.

Almost every country in the world is associated with certain values

In the midst of the Trojan Horse affair, in which Islamist extremists were accused of seeking to exert influence over a select number of state schools in Birmingham, the vexatious issue of British values was raised again.

The education secretary Michael Gove was quoted as saying that from now on schools in the UK should teach pupils about British values.

Bizarrely, but not unsurprisingly, his statement caused alarm and attracted angry ripostes from many commentators.

It seems the term ‘British values’ is able to create as much fear amongst some sections of our society as the term democracy may do amongst North Korean political leaders. It is almost as though a discussion about British values is construed as a threat to the pluralistic and multi-ethnic/religious fabric of our society. Or that such a discussion will be used to enforce mass conformity and stifle anti-establishment sentiment.

I find this attitude very strange and slightly disturbing.

Almost every country in the world is, or at least can be, associated with certain values and that is what helps make nations distinct. The set of values that a country is associated with do not, individually, have to be unique to that country. Rather, they help define the country and the aspirations of the majority of its citizens.

Such values also inform us of the social, cultural and political climate of a country which, in turn, gives a country a unique brand or flavour.

I believe Britain is uniquely placed to face globalisation and the challenges of ethnic and religious pluralism because British values allow for the accommodation of difference. Britain, in my view, is the best country in Europe in which to be a Muslim.

It is also, arguably, the best place in Europe to be gay or a single mother. This is because at the heart of the British psyche lies a set of values that respect and tolerate differences and individual choices.

I believe Britain is characterised by fairness, rule of law, equality before the law, personal freedom and a respect for the rights of others. These values are reflected in our democratic political framework and institutions, such as schools, hospitals as well as charities.

These values act to make Britain an attractive destination for asylum seekers from around the world and those that are seeking to better themselves from societies in which equality is lacking.

Having a national values-based discussion is very important in a globalised world in which countries are becoming increasingly diverse and, therefore, are in need of something that can bind citizens together. National values offer citizens a framework with which issues of national concern can be discussed and appropriate solutions reached.

These values also do not have to be static or fossilised, they be dynamic and evolving and they often are.

Not wanting to talk about British values is, oddly, becoming a British value too. It seems many feel such a discussion could lead to the promotion of values that are too prescriptive and stifle debate and dissent which is needed for a society that wants to make progress.

I think this fear is unfounded and, perhaps, only applies to a small minority that seeks to synonymise British values with bizarre ideas about racial or ethnic homogeneity. British values, as they are understood by most, are accommodating and able to absorb different viewpoints and lifestyle choices.

However, whilst accommodating differences is important there is a danger of descending into absolute cultural relativism. Tolerating practises and beliefs that undermine fundamental human rights, such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or forced marriage, is not the same as respecting difference. Being liberal and respecting choices does not equate to accepting human rights violations, injustice and inequality.

I do not think discussions about British values will lead to curbs on free-thinking and pluralism. As an inherently liberal society, I believe we can encourage more free-thinking, creativity and pluralism by upholding and celebrating values that provide a basis for such things.

Furthermore, if we do not believe in these values for everyone then we do not believe in them at all, therefore, let us not fear the debate and instead engage it in.

Ghaffar Hussain is managing director at counter-extremism think tank Quilliam

23 Responses to “Are you scared of British values?”

  1. Mark

    I also found the aggression against “British Values” strange. It seemed to revolve around the word “British” as if Britons were claiming all liberal values as uniquely British, when of course, they exist elsewhere. One of the refutations was that “Universal Values” would be a better choice. But what is actually wholly “universal”? It seemd a bit like a Christian-Atheist debate, where the Christian would be espousing “Christian Values” as belonging completely to them and no other, and the atheist would point out that those values are not confined to Christianity. In those debates the atheist would be right (and some Christians would have to agree in those debates). However, I never heard, and doubt it was the intention, that “British Values” belong only to us. Take a list of decent values and you’ll find many countries would pick the same ones out and claim them (but not all countries). Great – all that was effectively said, was that “These are the ones (from that list) we adhere to, in a British society.”

  2. Trispw

    I haven’t a clue what British values are. It’s a big country with 60+ million people. It covers several countries and territories. They are not all the same.

    Throughout the country, though, you notice several traits: drunkenness strikes me as being prevalent the country over.

    Corruption is widespread: Corrupt politicians, corrupt aristocrats; corrupt police, particularly the Met, corrupt churchmen, corrupt BBC, corrupt bankers…

    Surely even the venal Tories wouldn’t want kids to be taught that stuff…

    Or would they?

  3. Sparky

    Would you class yourself as a negative person?

  4. Mark

    Yes it is a big country. I live in London and had a trip to the wilds of Suffolk the other day. Everyone said “hello” or “good morning”. I was a bit taken aback, but probably safe in the knowledge that perhaps the local baker might be a bit corrupt……

  5. Astrid Fernandez

    What a whiny little turd you are. Ghaffar Hussein spelled it out in the article he wrote, but i doubt you even bothered to read it before you went off on your pathetic little rant. Here it is again for you, moron. “I believe Britain is characterised by fairness, rule of law, equality before the law, personal freedom and a respect for the rights of others. These values are reflected in our democratic political framework and institutions, such as schools, hospitals as well as charities.”

  6. Liam Fairley

    What a horrible, vitriolic and nasty response. This sort of thing is not welcome here. Go and post your bile and troll elsewhere,

  7. Liam Fairley

    A highly commendable and sensible piece. I’m glad the author mentioned the relativists. These people ostensibly believe that Muslims are simply too emotionally and intellectually immature to deal with our western ‘enlightenment’ values, and therefore unworthy of them.

  8. John Doe

    There’s a fundamental point that these discussions miss: by definition, *national* values encompass a nation and so must *not* be in any way partisan. It doesn’t make sense to equate left values or right values with British values because not all of Britain is either left or right.

    This is why it is false for you to claim that we are an “inherently liberal society”, and you admit as much by saying that we need to encourage *more* free-thinking, creativity and pluralism because – obviously – we don’t have enough of it yet because those are not yet British values.

    The question of nationality is always so deeply politically motivated that there is the temptation (which you have yielded to) to say MY values are British values, but they’re *not*. They are only yours and the values of people who vote with you. As it happens, I would vote with you on many if not most things, but I don’t have the delusion that my beliefs represent an entire nation because they so clearly do not and I will not deny the (often helpful and productive) antagonism that exists in politics for the sake of a facile, anodyne liberal dream that we are all doe-eyed and living in harmony.

  9. Ortega

    Exactly. “Values” are personal not national. It would make more sense to talk about educating children about British legal and political institutions, although in practice I’d imagine that’s going to go over the heads of a lot of them.

  10. Julian Gibb

    British values!

    Anyone wonder why UKIP did so well?

    “…Best for Muslims, gays and single mothers”. Have you lived in Europe? If you had you would never make such a claim. You think we are better than any of the Scandinavian countries?

    Can we not use Universal as Mark suggested.

  11. JoeDM

    I note that freedom of expression and freedom of speech is NOT included in that list.

  12. JoeDM

    Not half as bad as Newcastle ! I had to work ‘up north’ for year or so and it was a little odd at first to have total strangers at a metro station or at a predestrian crossing start talking to you as if they’d known you for years. But very nice when you got used to it.

    (Or maybe it was me. I’ll ask the man in the white coat.)

  13. Just Visiting

    Julian – have you lived in Europe? Have you personally experienced it better for ‘ for Muslims, gays and single mothers’

  14. Just Visiting

    You say:

    > I haven’t a clue what British values are. It’s a big country with 60+
    million people. It covers several countries and territories. They are
    not all the same.

    Which reminds of many discussions on this theme we had on LiberalConspiracy before it’s demise.

    Often people there would claim (like you did) that there is no such thing as British values or British culture.

    But that is such an unscientific position -the whole field of anthropology is thrown away in one go!

    It’s also a naive position: anyone who has spent decent periods of time abroad has first hand experience that values and cultures do vary – Dubai is different to France to Thailand to Australia to Sweden, to Brazil.

  15. TN

    Numerically speaking the group most afraid are probably the extreme left. Cretins like Seumas Milne or Richard Seymour who wish to project their bigoted views onto every individual member of a minority group.

  16. John Smith

    Ask the immigrants.
    Many have come thousands of miles.
    They must value something of Britain

  17. Anglo-Scot

    I think all things British may be heading for a reef if Scotland votes for independence. The existence of Britan depends on 3 small Celtic countries choosing to be united with a large Anglo-Saxon one. If Scotland leaves, just how useful is it to talk of values common to England N Ireland and Wales? Being English myself, maybe I should ask myself how different are English values to British values. Are they so different that I need to hold on to the latter? They do seem more or less the same at first sight, though I do appreciate that others might not feel the same way.

  18. Just Visiting

    > Exactly. “Values” are personal not national.

    Sorry, not true – there’s a whole academic field called Anthropology that compares/contrasts different groupings of people, on their values/cultures etc.

    Yes it is a truism that any one individual also has their own unique values they have chosen: but wrong to claim that shared values don’t exist in large groupings too: regionally, nationally, supranationally .

  19. Just Visiting

    > It doesn’t make sense to equate left values or right values with British
    values because not all of Britain is either left or right.

    Well: most commentators would say that the USA political parties are more conservative than the UK ones: that e.g. their party of the left the Democrats is more conservative than the UK party of the left the Labour Party.

    But in your book – are you saying that isn’t true? Because not all of Americans are conservative?

  20. CBinTH

    I think in reference to corruption you could argue the opposite. Or, at least, that there is a peculiarly British kind of corruption, which is different to the ordinary kind encountered elsewhere.

  21. Frank

    Yes the easy benefits system

  22. Tde

    Do you realise how culturally & ethnically homogeneous the Scandinavian countries are??? There is this myth that they are wonderfully liberal & multi cultural societies. It is a lie. They have tiny immigrant populations that are often segregated from the rest of society.

  23. John Smith

    Generosity is a British Value .. . .

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