In March 2014 a leaked letter purporting to come from Islamic extremists (which has never been verified) in Birmingham, England, told of a covert operation named “Trojan Horse”, telling such extremists how to opt-out English schools in order to teach radical Islam to the pupils. A subsequent investigation by the schools ombudsman, Ofsted, of 21 Birmingham schools found evidence in 10 of them of suspected attempts by radical Islam to take over the schools.
The response from the then Westminster government’s Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has been that all 20,000 primary and secondary schools must teach “British values” to all pupils. Were this knee-jerk reaction not enough, a letter writing campaign by the British Humanist Society has resulted in the new Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, announcing that English nursery schools must also teach “British values”, or risk losing funding.
So, what do these “British” values include? Mr Gove maintained that the values he wishes to instil are “Democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect, and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs.” The concerns of the British Humanist Association were radical Islam and creationist beliefs finding their way into nurseries. Mrs Morgan’s response has been to instil the “British” values in all toddlers of learning right from wrong, learning to take turns and share, and to challenge negative attitudes and stereotypes.
I am absolutely speechless at the supreme arrogance and hypocrisy of a government which holds these values, which they are indeed are, to be wholly “British” (and let’s face it, by extension, English).
So, let’s go through the checklists of what two consecutive education secretaries consider to be “British Values”.
It must come as a great surprise to many scholars throughout the world, as well as the population of Greece, to discover that democracy is in fact a British value. It will also come as a surprise to better educated Africans and others, who happen to know that the ancient country of Zimbabwe (not the present totalitarian nightmare of the same name) actually practised what we recognise today as democracy when the Greeks were still arguing over how much lemon juice to add to hummus.
For a government which insists so much of the sanctity of democracy, the UK has seldom practised it, and still does not to this day. People who struggled for common suffrage in Britain, until relatively recently in history, either found themselves suddenly transported to the other side of the world, or very dead. There is a needle in Edinburgh’s Old Calton Cemetery which commemorates those who struggled for that freedom. And let us not forget that it is less than 100 years since women in Britain were given the vote, long after a great many other countries had done so.
If there is democracy in the UK today, I for one am failing to see it. The vast majority of the UK population live in London and the south-east of England, with the result that it is they who decide what government the entire UK gets. We currently have a Conservative / Liberal-Democrat government in power in Westminster, yet here in Scotland, out of 59 constituencies, we have 11 Lib-Dem MPs and only 1 Conservative MP. It is often the boast here in Scotland that we have more pandas than Tories. Equally, I am fond of saying that the only safe Tory seat in Scotland is a lavatory seat – and I wouldn’t even be too sure of that. Yet the result of this is that Scotland, as has happened too often in the past, has a government and their policies which we never voted for. And the same pertains to Wales, Northern Ireland and Cornwall. That is not only not democracy, it is not even closely approaching it.
Rule of Law
The rule of law? In the UK? Please do not make me laugh. In recent years stories have been uncovered of serious laws being flouted by high-profile people, which were hushed up, or nobody ever done anything about. The former DJ, TV presenter and charity worker, the late Jimmy Saville, is fast on the road to being exposed as the most prolific paedophile in human history, and his actions have been described as “the worst kept secret in the BBC”. Similarly, the sexual abuses of children and young women by Rolf Harris and Stuart Hall were well-known, yet nothing did anything about it. The victims had to wait years, sometimes decades to make sure they were brought to book.
There is soon to be an enquiry into a suspected paedophile ring within governmental circles in the 1980s. The first choice to head this enquiry was to be Baroness Butler-Sloss, whose brother, Sir Michael Havers, not only instigated the cover-up of sexual abuse at the Kincora Boys School in the 1980s, but who has also had allegations levelled against him of being one of those involved in the paedophile ring. It took an online campaign to force Butler-Sloss to step down, while the government was still backing her to the hilt.
Where was the rule of law for the family of Jean Charles Menezes, a Brazilian visitor to London who was gunned-down by plain clothes police, who mistook him for a militant Islamic terrorist? Where was the law when those same officers lied that Menezes was suspiciously wearing a bulky winter jacket on a fair day, had ran when challenged, and had jumped the barriers at Brixton tube station – when in fact he was lightly dressed, was never challenged, never ran, bought a ticket and then walked onto a tube train, where he was gunned down in cold blood? Where was the law and the justice when not one officer was brought to book and the 2008 inquest into his killing delivered an open verdict?
Where was the rule of law in many other such cases of those who have been killed by the authorities and whose killers have either walked away free, or never been investigated? Cases like those of Scottish nationalist campaigner Willie MacRae, and anti-nuclear campaigner Hilda Murrell – some of us don’t forget. The punk band The Clash, had it right in the song Know Your Rights;
You have the right not to be killed.
Murder is a crime.
Unless it is done by a policeman,
or an aristocrat.
Where indeed is the rule of law when a former Prime Minister can take a country into an illegal, blood-for-oil war based on a pack of lies, based on a US high school student’s paper, and shall never be brought to book for that?
The rule of law is indeed precious. It is something which has evolved over time through many cultures, and which is shared by every country on the face of the planet, many of whom practice it much more diligently than the UK, no matter how much the government may like to kid themselves that it is a “British” value.
When the “British” value of liberty was announced, the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated that schools should teach about Magna Carta. I could not agree more – that they teach that Magna Carta, signed by King John at Runnymeade in 1215, pertained only to barons and their sons, and that it applied only to England. Not British at all then, and certainly not the basis of liberty for all UK citizens in the 21st century.
What liberties do we have? Do we have freedom of speech and expression? Hmm. Just try that and see what the repercussions are. I highly suspect that the security services in the UK have a file upon me. This is not paranoia. In the 1980s I was active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and today if I try to get a job with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) or within the nuclear industry, I immediately fall at the first hurdle, because neither industry will employ anyone who has been a member of a “communistic” organisation – which of course CND is not and never was.
In 2013 the UK government introduced measures to filter internet usage. This means that when you buy a new computer (of join a new server) you must ask for a PIN with which to switch the filter off. New laws covering online usage will see authorities keep and have access to details of messages sent on social media, web mail, voice calls over the internet and gaming in addition to emails and phone calls. The government claims this is to protect children and prevent terrorism. I would like to know just how online gaming is doing either. It is in fact an intrusion into your life by government, and which effectively makes everyone of us logging onto the internet a potential criminal suspect.
And in the age of ever-rising poverty, I can do not better than quote Anatole France “The majestic equality of laws which forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal bread.” Liberty without equality is no liberty at all.
There are a great many countries around the world which have concepts of and practice liberty of their citizens a lot greater than the UK ever has done, and ever shall do.
Where is the mutual respect in class-ridden Britain? Does the government seriously imagine that their public school, multi-millionaire chums have respect for anyone of my class? Because I’ll tell you right now, I most certainly do not have any respect for them.
Who gets respect in the UK? Ask anyone who is non-white, non-Christian, non-UK national, gay, lesbian, trans, intersex, disabled, elderly, young, working class, homeless, or who in any other way differs from the “norm” if they get respect. They will soon tell you that respect is in short measure in Britain. Even women do not get the respect they deserve in the UK, and if they complain about it, they are immediately labelled as “radical feminist”, “lesbian”, or both, or worse, including the claims that they asked for it.
I cannot even get respect as a Scot in the UK. If I go down south with Scottish banknotes, there are a great many places will not accept them, despite the fact that as Sterling, they are legal tender. And this treatment is not an aspect of modern Britain. During a visit to London in 1984, I had to run for my life one evening when a gang were going to beat the crap out of me, purely for being Scottish.
Where is the respect when the blackshirts of the English Defence League / Scottish Defence League, Britain First, the British National Party haunt the land, and the government fuels their flames by making outrageous statements about immigrants and Britain being a “Christian country”? Where is the respect when non-whites and eastern Europeans live daily with the threat of violence?
The government wishes to speak about respect? As I write this there are ‘commemorations’ across the UK for the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, part of the four years of “celebrations” announced by David Cameron in 2013. At the same time the UK armed forces are urging new recruits to take out private insurance, to cover them for being injured or suffering PTSD, because of the struggle they will have getting any help from the government. If anyone in government is reading this, you want respect? Try practising what you preach, and when you are quite finished glorifying the most insane, costly and pointless slaughter in human history, when you are finished making sanctimonious speeches about the dead of a past war, try showing the combatants and veterans of modern conflicts the respect they deserve and which you – who are not fit to clean their boots – are rightfully due them.
Tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs
“I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.” (David Cameron, interview in Church Times, April 2014)
David Cameron’s statements certainly did make an impact upon some; the far-right wing organisation, Britain First, soon thereafter accosted peaceful Muslims leaving mosques, forcing copies of the Bible into their hands. Since then Britain First have asserted that Britain is a “Christian Country” and their God being a jealous God, will not tolerate other faiths on “His” soil.
And keep in mind what has happened here; ten schools are under suspicion of radical Islamic teaching, therefore all 20,000 schools in England must teach “British” values. These of course are schools where children are already indoctrinated with religion; it is the law that assemblies in English state schools must be “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”. Which makes one wonder if the schools investigated were indeed practising radical Islam, or were they merely seeking to remove their children from Church of England dominance? And just like Scotland, parents have the right to opt their children out of these assemblies, yet few schools make parents aware of that.
And what is the government’s answer to education? They want even more faith schools, where children will be brought up in one particular faith in that school. I fail to see how having a system of educational apartheid can ever foster tolerance of the faith of another. To my mind it can only ever have the opposite effect.
Leaving aside the bizarre notion of the government that Christianity is wholly British (we all know it’s American), this malaise goes right to the top of the establishment. The UK monarch is also head of the Church of England, and part of the House of Lords is made up by the Lords Spiritual; 26 unelected Church of England bishops. Just as the vast majority of MPs are Christians. The result of this is that we have a Christian government visiting laws and legislation upon the whole of the UK. Does this matter? Well consider that the 26 representatives of what is a minority faith in Scotland have the power to vote on legislation visited upon Scotland. Consider that if, like me, you are an atheist, you are no less bound by laws and legislation based upon Biblical theology. Where then is the tolerance for my non-beliefs? Where is the tolerance for the teachings of the Church of Scotland? Indeed, with a Church of England establishment in “a Christian country”, can there ever be any real tolerance for any other faith?
Teaching right from wrong is indeed fundamental to any child’s upbringing. What I do find bizarre is that it is nurseries teaching this, when to my mind that should be the job of the parents. I often wonder however if David Cameron himself understands the concept. Does he know right from wrong when he cracks down on the poorest of the poor, whilst doing next to nothing about the billions lost in tax avoidance by his ultra-rich friends?
In June 2014 David Cameron made a statement of apology for hiring former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who had been convicted of phone hacking – while further charges against Coulson were being deliberated over. Did Cameron understand right and wrong when he made that statement? Mr Justice Saunders, the judge involved, certainly did not think so when he issued an angry rebuke of the Prime Minister. Indeed, did Cameron understand right from wrong when he hired Andy Coulson?
Does the government understand right from wrong when it continues to sell arms to Israel, a country which has been condemned by the international community for it’s armed action in Gaza? Did Britain understand right from wrong when it invaded and raped the world’s resources in the days of Empire? Did it understand right from wrong when it became embroiled in an illegal blood-for-oil invasion in Iraq?
I can think of a great many countries which practice right from wrong much better than Britain ever has or shall.
As far as learning to take turns and share is concerned, I’m no expert on the matter but most children to my mind seem to understand this instinctively, across the globe and throughout cultures. It seems to me that the current “Bugger you Jack, I’m alright.”, “Me first, second and last.” culture of Britain is in fact far more likely to create greedy kids incapable of taking turns and sharing, than to foster any instinct of sharing.
Likewise most toddlers don’t see differences in others. Any negative attitudes and stereotypes they learn come mostly from their pig-ignorant parents in bigoted Britain – see point above about how minorities are treated in this country. There is a great truth in the old Scots saying “Fools and bairns speak at the cross whit they hear by the ingleside.”
An old dog will always love you, though you sometimes make mistakes;
God bless the little children, while they’re still too young to hate.
Ain’t nothin’ in this world is worth a single dime,
‘cept old dogs and little children, and some watermelon wine.
(Tom T Hall, “Watermelon Wine”)
I am frankly astounded at the ignorant stance the government is taking upon this stance. It is knee-jerk legislation, and knee-jerk legislation is always deeply flawed. I for one do not believe for one moment this will foster greater tolerance in Britain. Far from it, I believe it will instil a resentment which can only boil over into much greater intolerance.
Worse still is the hypocrisy of Cameron, Gove and Morgan, and cohorts, who come out with fine words, but whose actions prove they are not capable of practising what they preach. Their stance belies a conceit which not merely thinks they speak for God, they think they are God.
There is not one of the values listed above can be remotely described as “British”, and for the government to claim they are, and while not practising them themselves, is supreme arrogance. Well, they can have their “British values”. I for one prefer to stand by my human values; equality and tolerance for all, no matter who they are, and judging others solely upon the content of their character.