British values?

Obama to send 300 military advisers into Iraq.

Suarez claims winning goals are retribution.

Gove’s British values defined.

Worldwide numbers of refugees exceeds 50 million.

MP tweets desire to punch (female) journalist.

Private schools’ head start in sport.

Pope says don’t legalise drugs; UK religious leaders unite on FGM

Down and almost out – what next for England?


A selection of the headlines on the front webpages of the BBC and the Guardian today makes me more than ever aware of the schizoid world that we live in, and in particular the muddled news and views that we are presented with in England.

“Down and almost out – what next for England?” seems particularly apt. of course it refers to the World Cup, and I, like most other football fans, am not holding my breath for the miracle that would entail Italy beating Costa Rica later this afternoon, and then England also beating Costa Rica by a minimum of a two goal margin. Perhaps such a miracle would presage the return to power next May of a true Socialist government – and I’m not holding my breath for that either.

However, football aside, what next for England indeed. In September the Scots vote on whether to stay or leave the Union. For once English politicians are united in wanting them to stay – Labour because they hold a significant number of seats in Scotland; the Tories do not, and the cynic in me might be surprised that therefore they might want the Scots to leave. That they do not, and that there is such unanimity in the desire to keep the Union together seems to me to be the strongest argument for the Scots to want to go. Scotland clearly has something that the English want so much that they are prepared to overcome party political differences to fight to keep it. Polls suggest that they will, although not by a comfortable margin, and they may thus be pushed into granting what most Scots seem to have wanted all along, namely ‘devo max’.

So even if the Union hangs on, things are changing for England. Scotland will become increasingly independent within the UK. It points the way for Wales and Northern Ireland, who only lag a short way behind. Then there is the big question of Europe, and M.Junker. M.Junker looks likely to take on the EU presidency whether or not Mr Cameron wishes that to happen. The question of a referendum on Europe hangs over the UK like a sword of Damocles. All depends on the general election next May. A very significant portion of the UK population, together with virtually all forms of media, appear to believe that there is Britain, and there is Europe. I remain bemused about which continent they think that we belong to — a far offshore island territory of the United States presumably. I admire many things that come out of America, but equally there are many things that I would go on hunger strike rather than accept. Their healthcare system, recently found to be the worst in the developed world (the NHS was the best). The practice of pledging allegiance to the flag each day in schools – brainwashing of the first order, and idolatrous in the eyes of many I would have thought. Guantanamo – a stain on President Obama’s tenure of office. Refusal to repeal gun laws, refusal to repeal the death sentence across all states. The treatment of Private Chelsea Manning and the exiling of Edward Snowden, branded a traitor. These are the most obvious and appalling negative sides to the United States; if I was feeling unkind but truthful I would add that the global export of heavily processed fast food has been a more lethal weapon over the past 50 years than any chemical or traditional warfare could be.

But we stubbornly resist the idea of being European – I think  that the concept of Empire, although long dead, still flows in the blood of many military families, and families of the Raj. I have no firsthand knowledge of our leading independent schools, but I suspect that those schooled in such institutions are not foreigners to the history of the British Empire. At the other end of the scale those working on low incomes, often doing manual work, resent other Europeans (usually speaking at least two languages) coming to work in Britain. The free movement of workers across the EU does of course apply in all directions, and amongst the highly educated global travel with and for work is common. We all know that it doesn’t happen for UK citizens working on minimum wages, and I believe that this is a result of an inability of most Britons to speak any other language, coupled with a lack of education, confidence, and vision.

Set against these thoughts it is extraordinary that Mr Gove thinks that he can define British values. He has said that school must promote: [the] British values of respect for the law, democracy, equality and tolerance of different faiths and religious and other beliefs. And this edict has stemmed from a comprehensive failure to understand, let alone be tolerant of, Islam. Mr Gove is not my idea of a figurehead for tolerance, nor for promoting equality. I am far from the first person to point out that there are Catholic, fundamental Evangelical, and Jewish schools that are at least as narrow in their teaching about sexuality, abortion, sex before marriage, homosexuality, and the role of women as the Muslim schools under investigation.

The British values of equality and respect for different faiths were also clearly evident when MP Michael Fabricant tweeted that he wanted to punch journalist Yasmin Alibhai Brown in the throat – and has refused to offer a proper apology. The same British values were on display when Sir Michael Wilshaw gave a tirade this morning against state schools and in praise of independent schools with regard to their sporting achievements. I especially liked the bit where he introduced his words by saying that a majority of elite sportspeople came from independent schools and that when you took football out of the equation the numbers rose even further (Football of course being a common sport that doesn’t really count when compared with fencing). The interviewer Justin Webb pointed out the facilities that Eton had (eye-wateringly impressive) and asked how a state school could compete. “The head can find a local park, enter negotiations with the local football club….” says Wilshaw, showing how far out-of-touch he is. The nearest serious football club with any half decent facilities might easily be an hour’s drive away, even assuming that the club was willing to give its facilities to a school for however long it would need each week. In rural parts of the country Wilshaw’s suggestions would be laughable – and anyhow, there are quite a few other differences to do with equality that were not mentioned. Availability of sports kit comes to mind – I know of schools where the lost property box is raided to give pupils kit to do PE in, as the parents cannot afford it.

The British values of tolerance and equality fail dismally when it comes to refugees. Despite the fact that there are now more refugees globally than there have been in the past 60 years, Britain isn’t keen on doing its bit. In fact it is really bad at it. The refugees who make it to the UK are more likely than not to be sent back to whence they came, even if it is to a war zone or a homophobic country that executes active homosexuals, if the Home Secretary decides on that course of action. Shamefully both Tory and Labour Home Secretaries have failed to show compassion, tolerance or to offer equality of recognition to a fellow human being. The only glimmer of hope is that younger voters, when recently canvassed, felt that Britain had a good record of offering refuge, and they were in favour of us offering asylum to those seeking help. I hope that the horror of refugees being torn from their A level studies and sent back to an alien, non women friendly country will end, and likewise that the detention centres such as Yarls Wood will close. There is surely no place in a civilised society with British values for detention centres where women are  sexually abused and raped by those who are meant to be looking after them.

So what next for England? More hope, more tolerance, more equality? Surely these are the values of our shared humanity and certainly not unique to this small island.

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