What are British Values?

Union jack doormatWhen Macron took the French Presidency and left the Louvre to a backdrop of Europe’s anthem ‘Ode to Joy’ it was a piece of political theatre, much thought through to resonant with the values of modern France. As we bask in the reflected glory of liberal values winning against the extreme right, I started to think what an English version of ‘En Marche’ might be.  What constitutes our middle ground and what are uniquely British values?

On reviewing British values, I find they have already been defined by our governmental process and are to be found formally as School Resources. Ofsted defines ‘fundamental British values’ as:

  • Democracy
  • the rule of law
  • individual liberty
  • mutual respect for tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith.

Indeed there is a whole industry set up to promote those values and specific government guidance. We have laws to enforce their protection through the ‘Prevent Duty’, which is an obligation on those in specified authorities, in the exercise of their functions, to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’.  So if you are an educator or childcare provider, there are duties to prevent loss of British values, but not if you are in the media or a newspaper editor it seems.

This all left me wondering what makes us Brits truly unique?  I can think of many countries that claim to live by those four rules and manage somehow to retain their sense of national pride without laws to enforce it.  In 2015 there were 113 democracies in the world of all its 192 countries with various degrees of quality according to the Global Democracy ranking. Not unique in only being in the top third, for the quality of our democracy.

The rule of law? According to the World Justice Project, there are 113 countries and jurisdictions they monitor against eight criteria or metrics. The UK is 10th in the global ranking. Not sure what Gina Miller’s case for the Houses of Parliament to vote on triggering Article 50 will do to that in coming years but not unique or indeed world class. So can’t claim that one either.

Individual Liberty? Yes, there is another Index, the Human Freedom Index, which has an impressive 79 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom covering the social infrastructure which allows you and me to go about or daily business in peace and quiet. In 2016 there were 160 countries, and the UK ranked behind Hong Kong, Switzerland, New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark joint with Australia and Canada (6). So again not unique.

Last chance then for national pride ‘mutual respect for tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith’.  There are many examples of countries that do not protect our rights as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Finding out that we are not alone in this aspiration does not make it any less necessary, but it is not unique to us.  Indeed we have recently been lectured by no less than the UN for allowing decades of ‘sustained and unrestrained anti-foreigner abuse’ in British tabloid newspapers.  It seems the Prevent obligation is not one on newspapers so will not be going for Freedom of Speech value either.

So if we don’t have a monopoly on being virtuous, what then does makes us special.  Tolerance isn’t unique, but it is more evident in how we live our lives. According to the analysis of the 2001 Census, nearly 1 in 10 people or 9% of the population were living as part of a couple in an inter-ethnic relationship in England and Wales, an increase of 2% in 2001. The parts of the country that voted to Remain in the European Union during the Brexit referendum were amongst the most racially diverse. It seems when we know people we are tolerant. Maybe it’s our newspapers, not our hearts, that are the issue so will keep with tolerant as something to aspire to.

Diverse? Wow, that is one hot potato if you try and find out about social diversity we hit some real barriers. There are a few academic studies on multicultural values and fewer on the impact on national economic value.  What constitutes diversity – language, religion, social class or ethnicity, going beyond your genetic group? Either way, the UK is simply not that diverse.  African countries are amongst the world’s most diverse with 20 of the world’s most diverse countries coming from Africa.  We are however one of the most tolerant of people from other ethnicities which are hard to justify given the recent 100% increase in hate crimes across England and Wales since Brexit vote. So I am binning the diverse claim.

In it together? Would social cohesion be a winning value? Is another index available to enlighten us? The OECD haws social cohesion indicators, but there are no universally agreed indicators as The Migration Observatory notes. British people and British government policy clearly have different ideas on what makes up our society and fear of foreigners was a clear part of the Brexit referendum vote to leave the European Union as detailed by Chatham House.  I don’t feel in together with many British voters after Brexit confirmed so not going there either. Not in it together.

Or is that just saying Fair?  What does that word mean? Fair to who, to you or to others? Are we sharing out value across society? Does UK society seem fair to you? According to the UK government, Britain has a deep social mobility problem that is getting worse for young people. Schools in England are highly socially segregated. The privately educated elite continue to take top UK jobs. With support for disabled people and the mentally ill at rock bottom, I don’t feel that fair should be here either.

How about something non-contentious – Preservers? The English love heritage and it is a huge part of our global appeal but are we unique in that? The UN has a body to preserve heritage Unesco and 1972 World Heritage Convention. There are 1031 sites currently on the World Heritage List, 30 of which are in the United Kingdom and the British Overseas Territories of Bermuda, Gibraltar, the Pitcairn Islands and Saint Helena. That 2.9%. So we are not uniquely well endowed, but perhaps we have particular good at looking after them. With one site Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City on the danger list, perhaps not.  Does it matter? We will always have the National Trust, Jane Austin and Downton Abbey so sticking with Preservers.

Innovative? We are a creative people. According to the Global Innovation Index, the United Kindom Ranked 3rd.  According to UK music, their industry makes a £3.5 billion contribution to the UK economy.  That is only part of the footprint of the whole creative industries whopping £87.4 billion.  So that seems a firm supposition as long as we forget many of those people are migrants but the ideas are they ours or theirs? It’s not that I don’t care, but I am sticking with innovative. We can claim to have started the Industrial Revolution, and I live in I hope we can also work out how to remove its climate change legacy with our emergent green industries, worth over 1.6% of GDP. So we innovate.

Connected? We are higher users of the internet but only 9th according to Internet Use statistics. We spend a lot of that time shopping; the UK has the second highest E-commerce sales as a % of total retail sales at 15.6%, according to Statista Digital Market Outlook. Well, we aren’t gaming as much as China, the US, Japan or even Germany.  Daily use in the UK is, however, less that Luxembourg and Denmark.  Perhaps we are all just on Facebook? Indeed in 2016 social media use has grown with over 38 million active social media users in 2016. That’s 63% of the entire population. According to data from ‘We Are Social’ released in Jan 2016, we spent an average of 1 hr 29 minutes using social media across all devices – with the overall time spent online at around 2 hrs 51 minutes per day. So connected seems about right.

So that leaves us with Tolerant, Innovative, Connected, embracing modernity but Preservers; all delivered with our sense of humour.  I can live with those as values that the British should aspire to. What do you think I have missed?

About the author

Liz Crosbie

A sustainability professional for the last 25 years interested in where the world gets its raw materials, who controls and owns their trade and what makes value for all stakeholders. Trying to live a lower impact life as a maker, gardener and restorer. Loves bees, nature, art, crafts and good food.

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