CONSIDERING THE BRITISH IDENTITY
Britishness and the idea of Great Britain could be said to have come into vogue, at the latest, with the Union of the Crowns in 1603, not the Union of the Parliaments in 1707. For example, the King James Bible was first published in 1611 and the very first page states:
"James by the Grace of God
King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland
Defender of the Faith."
The following editorial by Alistair McConnachie, which investigates the British identity, appeared in the May 2006 issue of Sovereignty.
On 15 May 2006, Higher Education Minister, Bill Rammell, suggested that classes on "core British values" could be introduced into the national curriculum, in order to address concerns about Muslim fundamentalism.
The only problem about defining Britishness in this moral sense is that the values that one is bound to consider, will simply be a long list of positive values which could apply generally to any people, anywhere at any time - such as, for example: "freedom", "tolerance", "fair-mindedness", "honesty"…and so on.
That is, there is nothing particularly, and distinctly, British about them.
Moreover, this obsession with "values" is, in Roger Scruton's phrase, an "open door to subversion", an open invitation to the anti-British Dave Sparts - the satirical Marxist cartoon character featured in Private Eye - to come up simply with an alternative list of negatives which they associate with Britishness, such as (and I quote): "imperialism", "colonialism", "racism", "chauvinism", "poverty" "inequality", "elitism", "lack of democracy", "war" and "aggression" - that list, by the way, courtesy of a letter from an SSP candidate in The Herald, this month [May 2006].
SO, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE BRITISH?
In the wider sense, to be British is to identify with, and to be loyal to, the nation of Britain, and its people - or if you prefer, a group of nations and their peoples - who possess and share in common, a particular history, and a set of cultural traditions, and a distinct set of national icons and institutions.
To be British is to value all of this and to want to see these elements supported, secured, strengthened, esteemed and promoted at home and abroad.
Britishness is felt as a sort of abstract spirituality.
"Moral values" are not a crucial part of this equation. After all, history records that Britons can be as bloody-minded as they can be "fair-minded", as intolerant as they can be "tolerant"...and why not, indeed!
Roger Scruton put it this way:
I cast my mind back to the way in which Britishness was taught to me by family, school, church and town. Those British values, as I recall, were seldom mentioned, and never taught. Britishness was a state of mind, imparted like the sense of family, as a collective "we". It was a matter of belonging, of being at home, of thinking by habit in the first person plural.
Our lessons were shaped accordingly. History was our history. It recounted battles that we had fought or lost; it dwelt on our achievements and our shortcomings (though the latter were strictly rationed). Literature was our literature, and all our lessons and activities were marked by the same proprietary feeling: we were being brought up as British, by authority figures infused with a love of the country that we shared.
[Labour] is suspicious of national loyalty, and is looking for a set of "values" that will make no reference to a country or the people who inhabit it. It cannot stomach the island history of our ancestors, sneers at English institutions.
Hence it proposes to teach a vague set of moral aspirations, which will mean nothing to those who long for certainty and who find it in the Koran.
The proposals should be viewed with suspicion for another reason. All educational provisions are hostage to the activists. "British values" will become like sex education and health education, an open door to subversion.
Likewise with British values. You can be fairly sure that, within a few years, the ideals of toleration, fair-mindedness and the rest will be turned into anti-patriotic weapons. This will happen by an invisible hand, as teachers, many of them every bit as disaffected as their Muslim pupils, look for ways in which the British people have fallen short of the values preached in their name.
It is not inevitable that this will happen. But it is very likely. For "British values", as understood by the Government, are really Enlightenment values, with no intrinsic connection to the history, loyalty and shared experience that define our country. They can be used as easily to undermine national sentiment as to uphold it.
But values are matters of practice, not of theory. They are not so much taught as imparted. You learn them by immersion, by joining with your contemporaries in team spirit, competition, and adventure - in short, by fashioning an "I" out of the collective "we". That is how I became both English and British: because I was immersed in them and they were part of me.
Roger Scruton "Values are not learnt through teaching",
The Daily Telegraph,16-5-06, p.20.
|BRITAIN IS GREAT!
I was reminded of this a few days ago when the Government announced its plans to promote "core British values" in schools.
The following morning The Guardian's letters page was one long howl of indignation. British history is something to be ashamed of, the readers argued. Britishness stands not for tolerance and fair play but bigotry, snobbery and, apparently, slavery, which rather puts Wilberforce in his place.
The hatred Dave Spart feels for his country is almost pathological. It eats him up. It sours his mind. If only all that negative energy could be harnessed as an alternative to fossil fuels.
If only we could get all those Sparts together in a room, attach jump leads to them and shout: "Britain is great!" How the national grid would light up.
Nigel Farndale, "Wild blooming Heather",
The Sunday Telegraph, 21-5-06, p.25.