A bunch of schools in Birmingham and Bradford have been accused of failing to teach students ‘British values’. The upshot has been every Tom, Dick and Harry (definitely British) loftily expounding what exactly they each perceive as passing muster as a “British value”.
As the rhetoric rolls out, it has become clear that what constitutes such a value depends entirely on who’s talking.
Learning, for example, that Call-me-Dave favours celebrating the Magna Carta, Charlie Brooker sets the tone of contention: “No wonder Cameron wants to celebrate the Magna Carta – back then plebs had the same human rights as a parsnip“. According to Brooker, Dave has responded to this crisis by declaring that we need to celebrate “Britishness” with more enthusiasm. “More enthusiasm? More?“, demands Charlie, “We’ve been celebrating Britishness with the strained determination of a man desperately trying to shit a cricket ball for the past five years.” Half a decade of drenched Diamond Jubilee flotillas, Olympic/Paralympic flag waving and First World War/D-Day commemorations have clearly taken their toll on poor Charlie.
And so we shift seamlessly into the shouty cut and thrust of the tub-thumping, mouth-frothing, lip-snarling style of pugilistic debate so beloved of Prime Minister’s Question Time (definitely British).
In the red corner: He’s-older-that-he-looks-Owen-Jones: “Sorry, David Cameron, but your British history is not mine. The prime minister is silent about this country’s radical past that inspires me. That’s why talk of unifying ‘British values’ is nonsense. Where modern Tories promote dog-eat-dog individualism, ruthless competition and the supremacy of private profit, I believe in solidarity, collective action and a fundamental redistribution of wealth and power.” Woop! Woop! Let’s hear it for Owen, comrades!
In the blue corner, I-am-Dave-Cameron: “The values I’m talking about – a belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law … to me they’re as British as the Union flag, as football, as fish and chips.” We can only wonder how often football and fish and chips are on the menu chez Cameron. Ok about the flag.
Dave ramps up the rhetoric roping in parliamentary democracy, free press, the judiciary and churches as the bedrock of Britishness. Er, Dave, they’re just plain old institutions mate, operated by a whole heap of nations. Oh, and you forgot the kitchen sink.
But surely, it cannot be beyond the wit of (wo)man to settle on a dossier of universal British values, to which we can all adhere? I mean, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is a bit of a classic, so it must be possible to detect what exactly it is that the Romans do that is so, well, Roman.
For example, what does Borgen do?
Well, the Scandis in general and the Danes in particular carry in their bones their very own, largely unspoken, set of strictly collective values known as Janteloven – the Jante Law and it goes like this:
You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
You’re not to think you know more than we do.
You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
You’re not to think you are good at anything.
You’re not to laugh at us.
You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
You’re not to think you can teach us anything.
*GULP* – seems pretty hardcore. But, actually, all it is saying is that individual benefit is only worth pursuing if everyone benefits down the line: The ‘we‘ is better and ultimately more productive than the ‘me‘. In fact, the ‘me‘ on its own is a bit of a Billy No-Mates destination.
Foreign detractors usually scoff that the Jante Law stifles ambition, drive and social mobility. But if that is the case, why did Spotify, Candy Crush, Volvo, Lego and IKEA succeed? How did Roald Amundsen, Niels Bohr, Emelie de Forest, Hans Andersen, Ibsen and ABBA come about? Who gives away Nobel Prizes, shows slow-TV to packed sofas in the sky and boasts the world’s richest Sovereign Wealth Fund? And where did The sweatastic Killing and yes, Borgen spring from? Not to mention Ylvis.
Special relations Iceland, much loved, if considered a bit eccentric by the Scandi Troika are up there with Magnus Magnusson, Björk and Sigur Rós. And to the East, the awesome Finns with Nokia, the least corrupt government in the world, the best education system in the world and the best lots of other stuff in the world.
And that’s just for starters. And they are still the world’s happiest. And every single country is less than a tenth the size of Great Britain (are you listening Scotland?). Clearly, Janteloven and thinking ‘we‘ rather than ‘me‘ must have something going for it.
Now to seven British ‘values’, practiced generously all over the place in everyday GB life:
- Xenophobia: Anti immigrant sentiment, rampant up and down the country, including among politicians.
- Wealth worship: One of the biggest pay gaps in the developed world, success measured in wealth, politicians fiddle their expenses for personal prosperity, money does the talking in the Westminster lobby bubble.
- Unemployed refuse jobs which immigrants happily get stuck into. While not universal, nonetheless a trend as politicians do little to make work pay.
- British Empire: Everyone thinks that the Empire still exists, and Politicians give out “Empire” medals, OBEs, MBEs, KBEs. They also regularly throw their EU toys out of the pram.
- Binge drinking, obesity: More binge drinking than practically anywhere else on the planet, one in four of the working population are obese, overweight politicians leading the way. Slimming advice from Eric Pickles viewed by some as a bit of an affront.
- Prejudice, resentment: Old British chestnut, still a firm family favourite and a perennial bad for politicians
- Rapacious greed: Homes for cash points, family nights out capable of relieving you of a cool grand. Politicians and corporations compete in corruption. Keeping up with the Joneses is very important.
Seven British ‘values’ making headlines on a daily basis. The alert reader will have spotted a group common to all seven categories: Politicians. Comforting to know that our elected representatives are leading by example then.
Lesser sleuths may have missed that the seven headings are, in fact, uncannily related to this:
A list, dictionary described thus: “Each a form of Idolatry-of-Self wherein the subjective reigns over the objective”, they are, of course, the Seven Deadly Sins, and pretty much the polar opposite of the Jante Law.
Now, unless we want schools in Birmingham, Bradford – and Bingley – and anywhere else, for that matter, to inculcate our kids with the Seven Deadly Sins, call-me-Dave must somehow find the re-set button for the entire British populus over the summer. He could start with reforming his own crony dependency, staple the Jante Law to his forehead and reverse polarity.