Cameron wraps his head in the flag


Oh shut up, David Cameron.

He’s talking nationalist bullshit about “British values” again, which is a really bad idea.

People in the UK should stop being “bashful” about being British, the prime minister has urged.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, David Cameron said the country should be “far more muscular” in promoting its values and institutions.

He backed the promotion of “British values” in the classroom amid claims conservative Muslim governors had tried to influence some Birmingham schools.

This should include teaching children about Magna Carta, Mr Cameron said.

Mr Cameron wrote that in recent years, the UK had sent out a “worrying” message: “That if you don’t want to believe in democracy, that’s fine; that if equality isn’t your bag, don’t worry about it; that if you’re completely intolerant of others, we will still tolerate you.”

That is a stupid, reckless, destructive thing to say. Democracy is not a “British” value; nor is equality; nor is tolerance. He’s basically talking about human rights, and human rights have to be treated as universal; treating them as part of nationalism makes them provincial at a stroke, and thus undermines the efforts of all human rights workers in other countries. Don’t undermine the efforts of all human rights workers in other countries, David Cameron.

In the wake of Ofsted’s findings, Mr Cameron said “British values” included: “A belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law.”

These were “as British as the Union Flag, as football, as fish and chips,” he wrote in the newspaper article.

The Muslim Council of Britain said it had “deep concern at the tone and tenor over the debate on British values”.

In a motion passed at its AGM, the MCB said it had “no objection to British values” and believed in a “tolerant, more free and more equal society”.

But it said it wanted a “real debate that does not regard us as conditional Britons…. It is not Islam or Muslims that stand in the way of full participation; It is the active and vociferous campaign to exclude Muslims from the public space.”

For once I think the MCB has a point, although they’re the wrong people to make it. But yes: by calling them “British” values when they’re universal and universalist values, Cameron does tell Muslims and other exotic people that those values are foreign to them. Bad idea, on many levels.

 

 

Comments

  1. Pen says

    Taking Cameron as an example it would appear that British values include, but are not limited to:

    Vilifying those who’ve failed to make themselves sufficiently exploitable.
    Fomenting prejudice against disabled people.
    Celebrating the hatred of foreigners and immigrants.
    Being a pompous arse and patronising git.
    Being found ignorant in charge of a complex and delicate system (e.g. a country).
    Taking a salary for doing a job and ostentatiously choosing not to do so. (e.g. governing a country)
    Growing up in a cocoon and calling it an education, provided the cocoon is traditionally British, of course.
    Turning into a Brit-clone on contact with the Magna Carta.

    Now I’m not saying these aren’t indeed British values (apparently), but we do have better ones and even if we didn’t we should ditch this lot and get some.

  2. says

    I thought British values were keeping the Cockneys and Irish in their place, and for the Cockneys, to move to Spain or Thailand and complain about the swarthy and brown-skinned “taking over” back home.

    (This gets really odd when the expat Brit in question is herself the daughter of immigrants from India, as is the case with one such I know.)

  3. Bernard Bumner says

    Pfft… He apparently couldn’t decide whether to write about Magna Carta or the Magna Carta. It pays to be correct when you start invoking great historical authority as a basis for your cheap, convenient, hastily conjured patriotic appeals.

    This is a downward spiral; the far right gains traction via a platform of racist/xenophobic populism, and the centre follows the voters towards the lowest ground. The centre thereby validates and legitimises the fears of the right, and the far right gains more purchase over them. Repeat, drifting ever downwards, until something gives. Catastrophically.

  4. says

    Writing in the Mail on Sunday, David Cameron said the country should be “far more muscular” in promoting its values and institutions.

    Not making fun or nothin’ (okay… yeah, totally making fun) but I gotta tell you, ‘muscular’ and ‘British values’ just seems… such an odd combination, from here…

    I’m picturing possibly organized bands of soccer hooligans… And they enforce mandatory tea time…

    (Menacingly) ‘That better be clotted cream you’re spooning onto those scones, guvnor…’

    (This of course would be funnier if street paramilitaries actually weren’t happily wedded to folksy appeals to ‘tradition’ in plenty of downright scary movements, over the centuries, but, hey, please let me laugh, all the same…)

    More seriously:

    He’s basically talking about human rights, and human rights have to be treated as universal; treating them as part of nationalism makes them provincial at a stroke, and thus undermines the efforts of all human rights workers in other countries. Don’t undermine the efforts of all human rights workers in other countries, David Cameron.

    That, exactly.

    David Cameron is an idiot. Oh and plenty of the scarier mirror-image counterparts of UKIP in nations that more see themselves as the colonized take exactly that line: democracy, egalitarianism, so on, are ‘Western’ concepts, alien things imposed by colonizers. Anyone local tries to speak up for them, they cast them as traitors, stooges of the Western powers, so on. Deliberately linking them like this, saying, oh, hey, here’s a thing that’s ours that makes us so much better than you, yeah, not especially helpful.

    Open message to Cameron, and to would-be authoritarians Western and otherwise: lots of people figure out on their own these are good things, things they’d like to have. No nation has a monopoly on this. And the fact that some places formally exhibit more or less in their current governance makes it ‘alien’ nowhere. Just good ideas, arising anywhere, at home anywhere.

  5. steve oberski says

    You would think that with his head already stuffed up his ass, there wouldn’t be room for a flag.

  6. iknklast says

    How dare he call them British values? Doesn’t he know those are Christian values? And as such, applicable to all Christians? (But no one else, of course, because Christian values are exclusive to Christianity, and if you happen to share their values, it’s only because you’ve grown up in a Christian nation, surrounded by all this right thinking!!)

    This is exactly the point I tried to make to my friends who constantly claim (in a very liberal voice, of course) Christian values, even when they acknowledge them in a non-Christian. It’s the same thing – claiming human values as your own, to the exclusion of everyone else. Not nice.

  7. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Proof that Samuel Johnson was mistaken.
    Patriotism is the first resort of the scoundrel.

  8. Dunc says

    He’s basically talking about human rights, and human rights have to be treated as universal

    Yes, but if he called them “human rights”, that might undermine the push to repeal the Human Rights Act. You have to remember that this is all populist tosh to try and recapture the “argle bargle foreigners!” vote from UKIP, and that DC and the modern Tory party are actively hostile to the notion of universal human rights. They want to make those rights conditional on being the right sort of person, so they can be stripped from undesirables. (Such as, but not necessarily limited to, the poor, immigrants, anybody claiming state benefits other than the pension, and anybody ever convicted of any crime.)

    On the other hand, I’d definitely like to see more teaching about the Magna Carta, because then perhaps people might be less inclined to regard is as some sort of prototype of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights… It is, however, exactly the right model for the sort of approach DC, the Tories, UKIP, and a lot of the rest of the British establishment would like to take – wealthy, powerful men have rights, everybody else can go whistle.

  9. brucegorton says

    British values involve stealing everything that isn’t nailed down, then swiping the ground stuff was nailed to, then the people who once owned it, only to finally whine about how the locals aren’t grateful for the gift of “civilisation.”

    Maybe my African heritage gives me a slanted view on these things.

  10. Nick Gotts says

    ericoehler@12,

    It’s not really bashfulness – just an assumption of superiority so ingrained that making a fuss about it is completely unnecessary, bad manners, and indeed risks making one look like a foreigner!

  11. karellen says

    “treating [Democracy, equality, tolerance] as part of nationalism makes them provincial at a stroke, and thus undermines the efforts of all human rights workers in other countries.”

    Huh. I would have not read that that way.

    “<concept> is a <nation>ist value” to me simply means that these are principles that <nation> as a society has generally held dear and that they have some history trying to further. If a French person indicated to me that they thought “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” were “French values”, I wouldn’t assume he was trying to tell me it was his considered opinion that the French invented Freedom, or that equality was an exclusively French concept, or that all French people agreed that they were as brothers (or siblings).

    There are many reasons that I might argue against the idea, which I have often seen expressed on the web, that “entrepreneurialism is an American value”; but I’d never have considered “being excluded from entrepreneurship as a non-USAian” as one of them.

    Still, thanks for the alternative perspective. It’s given me something to think about when writing posts trying to find (or create) common ground and shared goals between localised, non-globally-encompassing, groups of people.

    (This stuff is hard!)

  12. RJW says

    @14

    “I would have not read that that way.”—neither would I.

    (1) Cameron is not claiming exclusivity, but that liberal democratic values are part of Britain’s political culture. Is it a coincidence that most of the nations that have the longest democratic traditions are English speaking?

    (2) As to the concept of “universal human rights”, it’s essentially a Western invention that’s not regarded as applicable by the ruling regimes in many countries where the oligarchies use theocracy or terror to maintain power.

    Cameron might be “wrapping himself in the flag” however he’s correct in claiming liberal democracy as a British value as it developed from British political philosophies and practices.

  13. RJW says

    @16

    I can’t see any explicit statements of exclusivity or primacy ( as Americans sometimes claim for their political system) and I only have the text, perhaps there’s a cultural subtext.

    “interesting what a lot of countries signed the UDHR then.”

    So what? Treaties and written constitutions are pieces of paper without the political culture to enforce their democratic provisions. The Constitution of the Soviet Union incorporated many democratic principles, and in some nations democratic constitutions are regularly ‘suspended’ by men with uniforms and guns and in others constitutions violate universal human rights. How often does that occur in the Anglo-sphere or the countries of NW Europe? It would be interesting to establish just how many of those countries that signed the UDHR have also been condemned for the most appalling human rights violations.

    How do “British Values” necessarily exclude British Muslims?

  14. says

    Hey how about using names once in awhile? It starts to sound a bit rude if people are responding to you with names and you keep just citing comment numbers.

    That’s a little robot-like, and so is your reasoning. What Cameron said was political rhetoric, and needs to be evaluated as such. Yapping about British (or American or French etc) values is loaded with all sorts of hostile implications and baggage, and that makes it precisely the wrong way to encourage people to embrace human rights and democracy.

  15. Dunc says

    It would be interesting to establish just how many of those countries that signed the UDHR have also been condemned for the most appalling human rights violations.

    It’s even more interesting to establish how many of them committed those human rights violations with the explicit or implicit support of countries which supposedly pride themselves on their respect for human rights…

    Here’s a fun little fact for you: Britain is one of the world’s leading exporters of what is euphemistically known as “security equipment”. If you should find yourself being tortured by the Saudi secret police, both your shackles and the electro-shock baton being applied to your genitals will probably have been made in the UK, and exported with the full legal sanction of the British government. We’re also home to several of the world’s most notorious “security contractors” (i.e. mercenary companies), many of whom have a nasty habit of getting involved in all sorts of unpleasantness, again with the full sanction of the government. And then there’s our role in directly commissioning torture from some of the most heinous regimes on the planet…

    We’ve taking much the same approach to human rights abuses as we’ve taken to industrial pollution – we don’t do it ourselves, but we’re happy enough to sub-contract it to other people, or to sell them the equipment and the expertise.

  16. karellen says

    “What Cameron said was political rhetoric, and needs to be evaluated as such. Yapping about British (or American or French etc) values is loaded with all sorts of hostile implications and baggage,”

    Sorry, are you saying that any kind of attempt at cultivating shared cultural values or ideals necessarily contains hostile implications and baggage? How else would you suggest trying to get all people to work together as a society, instead of splintering into tribal factions, without trying to a shared vision for people to unite behind?

    Or is it just at the national political level that this is a problem? Creating a shared values for humanity is fine, obviously (UDHR), but lower than that, not so much? What about at a local grassroots level – would a community creating shared values for itself be worse, for being even more exclusionary?

    Do you have a long-form essay in your archives on this, or an external link to some other site that explains it step-by-step? I feel like I’m missing a lot of background here…

    “that makes it precisely the wrong way to encourage people to embrace human rights and democracy.”

    The right way being…what, exactly? To explain what human rights and democracy are, or what advantages they bring? (Because people who don’t embrace HR&D could only either be ignorant of the concepts, or must only know the theory without having been made aware of the benefits a society which has them has actually reaped?) Or….?

  17. RJW says

    @ !8 Ophelia,

    “Yapping about British (or American or French etc) values is loaded with all sorts of hostile implications and baggage,”

    Precisely what implications? Where did I claim that the concept of universal human rights, although developed in the West is only applicable there? You’ve pointedly ignored my comments on the rather naive belief that human rights are universally acceptable in all cultures and constructed a straw man instead.

    The reason that Muslim theocracies or the Chinese Communist party don’t embrace liberal democracy is because it’s not in their interests. Good luck in encouraging them to embrace human rights and democracy.
    It’s rather patronising to assume that the the bitter Western pill needs to be sugar-coated in order not to offend the populations of non-western societies, there’s baggage there too.

    @19 Dunc,

    Yes, democratic governments sometimes behave appallingly and fail to maintain the high political ideals they profess, humans are imperfect, what’s your point here? Which would you prefer, to live in a country where human rights are an alien concept, or a democracy?

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