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How do we define ‘British values’?

Posted By Sunny On 10th October, 2007 @ 8:43 am In Civil liberties, British Identity | 6 Comments

The current edition of [1] Prospect Magazine says:
In July, Gordon Brown published a green paper called “The Governance of Britain.” The final section said that we need to be clearer about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and what it means to be British. It proposed “to work with the public to develop a British statement of values.” We asked 50 writers and intellectuals to give us their thoughts on this statement and what should inform it

I was one of the 50 asked to contribute. Below was my short response (we had a 250 word count!).

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A British statement of values that can help form a common bond across our increasingly mobile and diverse nation cannot be expressed in anything other than a new constitution.

There are two compelling reasons for this. First, that there is no alternative, and second, that a constitution fulfils all the requirements in this debate.

Britishness has slowly but surely moved away from being a race-based identity. What will Gordon Brown replace it with? He briefly ventured into “our way of life” territory before realising that football, queuing, jam on toast and morning tea were neither helpful nor a good starting point.

A discussion of common values is a step in the right direction but there is a danger it will flounder in a circular discussion of commonly held cultural and social values. Suffice to say, there can never be any agreement on those.

The only viable option for the prime minister is to emphasise common political values, expressed through things such as a strong parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and expression, secularism, stronger civil liberties and more transparent political engagement.

Such political values are the only markers that can unite a diverse nation. This is also why a new constitution, which explicitly codifies these sentiments, is so important. If executed in the right way it kills several birds with one stone. It encourages citizens to take ownership of their rights as a source of empowerment; helps form a common bond in the way it does with Americans; and most importantly encourages further political engagement.

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[2] The full list of contributions is here.


6 Comments To "How do we define ‘British values’?"

#1 Comment By chrisc On 10th October, 2007 @ 9:32 am

Good response.
But the devil is in the detail.
I would be very happy to adopt the US constitution to save time!

#2 Pingback By University Update - Gordon Brown - How do we define ‘British values’? On 10th October, 2007 @ 9:49 am

[…] Clark How do we define ‘British values’? » This Summary is from an article posted at Pickled Politics on Wednesday, October 10, 2007 This […]

#3 Comment By Sofia On 10th October, 2007 @ 10:57 am

Not sure if this is the right place to put this, but thought it might be worth discussing as we are talking about values in a free society..I thought this article by Cath was spot on and really calls into question what kind of society we are bringing up our children in…

[3] http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/cath_elliott/2007/10/the_high_street_porn_brokers.html

#4 Comment By justforfun On 10th October, 2007 @ 11:51 am

…. ……..

fine

then

….This is also why a new constitution, which explicitly codifies these sentiments, is so important. If executed in the right way it kills several birds with one stone. It encourages citizens to take ownership of their rights as a source of empowerment; helps form a common bond in the way it does with Americans; and most importantly encourages further political engagement.

It is this last bit I just don’t see following on from what you wrote before.

To “codify” - one could substitute ‘ossify’ …at their current positions, with no hope of improving on the current position. Because once these sentiments are down on a piece of paper they will be far harder to change. Think long term - 50 years 100 years etc .

Far better to maintain and improve political activism in a politicaly aware population, through education and campaigns AND by holding our parlimentarians to proper account - ie Vote Out Parties that are NOT willing or are unable to disipline their party leaders to keep to simple basic fundementals like honesty and truthfullness. If we as a society cannot even get our political parties to respect Parliment or us as the voters , why do you for one moment think that a piece of paper outlining a constitution is going to do it.

It will just be a field day for lawyers and the super rich to set the precidents as to what will be allowable under the ‘constitution’.

Power comes from the ability to exercise a vote and to show one cannot be taken for granted, not from a paper constitution. In this way power is safeguarded by being within the actual body of an educated and free people and not in a piece of paper that cannot flexibly deal with the future.

Pass on to future generations an education that will allow them to make up their own minds as to what sort of society they want in the circumstances that they live in, rather than dictate from the past.

Justforfun

#5 Comment By stu On 10th October, 2007 @ 12:13 pm

while all good points, why is this an essense of Britishness.

Like most attempts to describe “Britishness”, there is little that can not be applied to any liberal state. I agree that codifying “the rights and responsibilities of citizenship” is useful but I fail to understand how this could, or indeed should, be uniquely British.

#6 Comment By Jherad On 10th October, 2007 @ 1:01 pm

A British Constitution eh?

I’d love to have one - I’m just not sure who could write it. Or more accurately, who I’d trust to write it today.

Part of the reason that Americans hold their constitution in such high regard is the passion with which it lays out fundamental principles of government and citizenship. In this age of security before freedom, of compromise and devious interpretation, could we form a constitution consisting of more than very British ‘weak tea’, to be reinterpreted, revised, sidestepped, and ultimately ignored at every ‘emergency’?

I fear we’d end up with a pithy, sentimental and crucially powerless token bit of paper, with every article containing either get-out clauses (smash glass in case of terrorism/union action/recession/bad hair day) or language so open-ended as to mean anything.


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URLs in this post:
[1] Prospect Magazine: http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/
[2] The full list of contributions is here: http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=9829
[3] http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/cath_elliott/2007/10/the_high_street_porn_brokers.html: http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/cath_elliott/2007/10/the_high_street_porn_brokers.html