Writing in The Times today Culture (sic) Secretary Oliver Dowden, predictably, uses the “British Values” banality to tell the BBC what it should do. This is yet another bit of flag- waving idiocy from a Government that daily proves Dr Johnson’s truism that patriotism is the last recourse of the scoundrel.
That there are “values” at the heart of a civilised society – any civilised society – is of course true. That any nation, let alone Britain, has a unique value set which sets it apart is highly questionable.
In reality if we check the United Kingdom against a template of generic values it has, for some time , fallen short – woefully so in many cases. Take overseas aid. If a value of a rich country is generosity to those in need Britain’s swingeing cuts to its international development budget are shameful. A modern British Value seems to be to do not what is generous but what is popular. Whatever positive values we may once have had are absent in today’s “Broken Britain”.
Another value that we seem to have discarded is the understanding that no country is an island entire in itself. Brexit was the apotheosis of this. Aside from the self harm it was a profoundly selfish and arrogant act. The arrogance was the presumption that we know best – better than twenty-seven other nations whose values are to work together cooperatively rather than drive themselves apart.
Across British society privilege and advantage set the rich apart – in healthcare, education and employment opportunities the more money you have the better the services you can buy. “Levelling up” is a chimera. Social division is a venal British Value that these days our leaders entrench rather than attack. To those that have more is given – the allocation of Government contracts and Honours to cronies shows that a British Value today is moral corruption.
If honesty in action and in reporting are worthwhile national values we fall woefully short on both. We have the gruesome double whammy of a lying government and lying media. How can you hold your leaders to account when fawning mendacity and bias is inculcated in much of the media?
How we are as a nation is as much a reflection of our past as our present. One of the key elements of our past was a predilection for cultural destruction. It is sometimes forgotten that our imperial adventures killed off first nation cultures and supplanted them with our own. Aboriginal societies – from native Americans to first nation Australians – were marginalised, infected and eventually destroyed by we Brits and some of us, Dowden included, have the audacity to boast about it !
A commitment to democracy, a drive to have equality of opportunity, an acknowledgment that we don’t have a monopoly of wisdom or morality in our past or present are values I would endorse. A fair society cannot be an institutionally divided one. But above all a society that aspires to set standards for others needs to be open and international not closed and inward looking. We fall so far short that we are now at best a laughing-stock at worst deserving of contempt.