Michael Gove in 2007: ‘There is something rather unBritish about seeking to define Britishness’

As Michael Gove originally wrote, there is something rather unBritish about seeking to define British values.

“There is something rather unBritish about seeking to define Britishness. Rather like trying to define leadership, it’s a quality which is best appreciated when demonstrated through action rather than described in the abstract.”

Those were the words of education secretary Michael Gove in 2007.

That’s the same Michael Gove who is now telling teachers they must promote “British values” in the classroom, after an official report found some substance to allegations of a ‘Trojan Horse’ takeover of schools in Birmingham by Islamists.

Indeed, yesterday Gove announced that, among other measures, schools would now on be required to promote “fundamental British values”.

Fine, except this completely contradicts the education secretary’s earlier words.

It’s also hard to see how academies and free schools, where teaching of the national curriculum is to remain optional, can be made to be taught “British values”.

Britain certainly needs shared values. In order for democracy to function there are certain ‘values’ that people must accept – the legitimacy of election results being one of them. A common understanding of what is and isn’t ‘done’ is essential for a cohesive society. But it’s incorrect to define these values as strictly British – many of the values we claim as our own are fairly common elsewhere.

And ironically, as Gove originally wrote, there is something distinctly unBritish about seeking to define these values, which are best appreciated “through action rather than described in the abstract”.

Perhaps, instead of reneging on his earlier wise words, Gove should address the more deep rooted problems with a school system that allows people to push their superstitions onto impressionable children.

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