Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

Information

This article was written on 28 Mar 2017, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The great lie of ‘British values’

I’ve had the chance to do an NVQ in spectator safety as part of my occasional work for a football club as a match day steward. On the principle that you should never refuse a qualification if it’s offered to you, I’ve duly been going along for the training and it’s been really useful, not least the parts about learning how to deescalate situations and which remind us that we aren’t supposed to make people feel as though they’re criminals or that they’ve been violated in some way. And then, a few weeks ago, there was a slide on ‘British values.’

We were told that ‘our’ values are tolerance, respect for people and their way of life and a few other, similar things that are also pleasant-sounding and, of course, wholly generic. And that’s the central problem with the idea of ‘British values.’ There is nothing which couldn’t be applied to any Western or similarly progressive nation and nothing that any dictatorship wouldn’t equally want to claim for itself. Were they to be branded as ‘Western values,’ then perhaps they would be more tenable, because there is nothing here which is suggestive of anything as nebulous as Britishness or to which anyone in Europe would not claim to feel a kinship.

This becomes a problem when ‘British values’ suddenly become a shorthand for people on social media to insist that Muslims are forced to observe. Nobody, when questioned, is able to say what these values are without straying into the kind of territory beloved of American tourists, who might think that everyone in England either wears a bowler hat and reads the Times, or else talks like Dick van Dyke in ‘Mary Poppins’ and goes into a grisly dance routine at every opportunity. There are no specifics here, only generalities, and as a result you have a concept wholly devoid of meaning in anyone’s mind other than the speaker.

What was introduced into the NVQ training as a unifying concept that was clumsily attempting to be positive is, then, revealed as no more than a stick to hit people with. If you wear a headscarf, or other forms of traditional dress, the supposition is that this is, in some way, un-British, even though the values themselves stress the importance of tolerance. By a linguistic slight of hand, the British person is seen to be tolerant of the ‘other’ and the other, in this case, are people who do not hear the same dog whistle. ‘I am British,’ runs the lie, ‘and you are other, but I am compelled to tolerate you.’ A wall drops quietly into society, with ‘them’ on one side and ‘us’ on the other which nobody can cross, at least not with a brown skin or a supposedly alien religion.

I reject supposedly ‘British’ values unilaterally and completely as the product of people who want me to conform to a fictive set of behavioural standards. Nothing I do in my life could not be done anywhere else in the Western world and there is nothing about me that could not be comfortably accommodated in any other country. All that differentiates me is that I live in one country I do not love rather than another. Within that, I try to be honest, truthful, fair and help anyone who seems to need it, none of which are British and all of which are personal to me. I don’t need to refer t o my nationality as a guideline, thanks.

Think about what you’re being told these supposed values are and they collapse under the weight of their own contradictions. Could they be espoused by someone who was French? Belgian? Who came from Estonia or Sweden? Pretty much. Are those people better or worse than me, or just the same? You already know the answer. In Kipling’s school series. ‘Stalky and Co,’ a retired general comes to the school and starts banging on about the dear old Union Jack and how everyone loves it. Stalky and friends booed and jeered the general, and that strikes me as the healthiest response, by far, to this jingoistic nonsense.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.