What better day to be writing about British Values than the day England beat Panama 6-1 in the World Cup? That Harry Kane is the only player that seems to be able to score is another matter! Also, next, we’re playing Belgium, the favourites. Ho-hum.
Over the past year or two, British Values has been foisted upon the school and college curriculum. Along with Prevent, it’s one of our defence mechanisms against terrorism, but most teachers and college tutors hate them and not just because they take up valuable teaching time. The problem is that the British, embarrassed about their colonial past, feel uncomfortable even about the word ‘British’. We’re the UK now and Brits (a derogatory term used about us, incidentally, by the IRA) . Except that we do love a royal occasion (a royal wedding, for instance), our football team, Andy Murray at Wimbledon and singing Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia at the Last Night of the Proms.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five understood British values (with a small v) very well: being ‘jolly decent’, not being a ‘cry baby’, fairness, not telling fibs and… well, not talking about any of these things very much. Things have moved on a lot since those days. Like it or not, we’re part of a diverse and global society.
So what brought this on? Today, I had to read and invigilate for students with literacy problems who were taking Gateway British Values exams. I have to admit that, beforehand, I was very sniffy about it, but – you know what – when I read the questions I changed my mind. Young people need to know, for instance, that at a General Election we elect Members of Parliament, not local councillors. When I do my poll clerk duty, too many people come into our polling station not really knowing what’s going on and many more, I’m sure, stay away. They need to be reassured that MPs are elected, that they don’t pay to get into Parliament and they’re not appointed. How did I assimilate these things? My born-in-Britain parents explained them to me. A lot of kids in this country won’t have this privilege.
So what are the real, modern British values? It’s really difficult to say because there are a lot of us Brits, living in different regions, from different cultures, in different income brackets and doing different things, but I’ll make a stab at it.
- Sill, we’re reserved. We cultivate hugging and kissing each other, but most of us secretly hate doing it, and we don’t meet people’s eye when we walk along the street.
- We queue. Don’t you dare push in! You will told to go to the back in no uncertain terms. If, somehow or other, you get to the front before you should have in error, you wave ahead the people who should have been attended to first.
- We don’t value education. (We can’t be bothered to put in the effort.)
- We’re lazy about learning foreign languages.
- British people speak in many diverse regional accents.
- We resent people who are successful.
- We behave badly when abroad. (But not as badly as some nationalities.)
- We drink tea with milk.
- We feel we’re entitled to a certain standard of living. When we don’t get it (for instance, if there’s a power cut or we can’t get a phone signal), we whinge.
- We don’t value religion. (But many people who profess not to believe in God swear ‘Oh my God’ or say things like ‘I hope and pray that…’)
- We don’t look out for each other as we should. We don’t like to interfere, or get involved.
- We’re embarrassed about being British. We don’t like to say anything good about ourselves.