Swearing allegiance to any set of values is a mighty tricky game. Best to be avoided at all costs. But Tory Minister Sajid Javid has different ideas. He wants the whole nation to swear allegiance to a set of British values. But this seemingly innocuous proposal quickly becomes a philosophical minefield. Who, for starters, will dictate what’s in and what’s out? And who’s to say which interpretation of any given ‘value’ is the correct one. Take for example the right to one’s own religious faith. That seems eminently straightforward and enlightened enough on the surface. Far from it. What if one person’s faith directly contradicts another person’s faith or indeed the law of the land? Take for example the highly contentious medieval practices of ‘honour’ killings, female genital mutilation and forced arranged marriages. Should tolerance of religious cultural diversity trump secular law or should secular law always and everywhere trump deeply held religious custom? This raises the intractably thorny question: where does tolerance of cultural diversity start and where should that tolerance absolutely finish? And what of the myriad grey areas in between?

Which leads us right back to those much vaunted ‘British values’? Are we, when we speak of British values, in fact referring to ‘universal human values’ as laid out in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which I believe the post-war Labour Party helped formulate, or is there something more specifically ‘British’ that some present day Tory ministers have in mind?  It quickly becomes apparent that even the most cursory examination of the ‘British Values’ question soon becomes mired in endless controversy and ambiguity, as the following paragraphs unambiguously demonstrate.

If Britain somehow stands for democracy, justice and tolerance, what are we to make of successive post war governments that couldn’t wait to intervene against national movements for independence  in their former colonial empire?  These interventions weren’t some gentle but misguided endeavours. No Sir, they were outright fascist military interventions, complete with concentration camps, torture and widespread humiliations. Malaya, Kenya and Iran immediately come to mind. And what of the British establishment’s staunch support for the openly fascist apartheid regime in South Africa? It was very late in the day when the British establishment finally, begrudgingly, began to change its tune.

Similarly, we have the British State’s continued military occupation of the six northern counties of Ireland and all the fascist brutality that that occupation has entailed. Were British values at work when unarmed civil rights activists were shot down in cold blood by the British army in Derry? Were British values at play when internment without trial became the norm in Northern Ireland? Were British values at play when the Guilford 4 and the Birmingham 6 and countless others were fitted up and incarcerated by the British State?

Closer to the present day, were British values at work when the British parliament voted overwhelmingly to embark on a wholly illegal invasion of Iraq on the spurious grounds that Iraq was poised to use weapons of mass destruction against the rest of the world, even though the UN weapons inspectors repeatedly said there were no such weapons? And were British values in operation when the British military routinely engaged in the most humiliating of torture regimes in Iraq, despite being a signatory to the UN ban on such torture? And while on the topic of Iraq, we should remind ourselves, however painful it might be, that it was a Labour government that led the charge of this neo colonial war, just as it was a Labour government that tried desperately to hold their tyrannical colonial empire together after the so-called 1939-45 war against fascism.

Moving right up to the present day, is it British values of democracy and justice that allows us to sell Saudi Arabia cluster bombs which can then be used on civilian targets in Yemen? Is it British values at work when unaccompanied refugee children, many of whom have a clear legal right to be united with family members in Britain, are left abandoned in appalling conditions just a few miles across the English Channel? And on the domestic front, are we witnessing British values at work when the most vulnerable and marginalised in British society are made to pay the biggest burden for the capitalist economic collapse in 2008?

The fact that I can write this blog free from fear of arrest (at least for the moment) is perhaps testimony to the fact that Britain is not a fascist state. But that does not mean that Britain’s foreign policies are not, all too often, veering in a fascistic, neo-imperialist direction. And its domestic policies, complete with its Chicago School of brutal small state neo-liberalism and accompanying anti-working class austerity, makes one wonder just what British values are at play in modern 21st century Britain. I am fully prepared to swear allegiance to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to the degree that British Governments uphold those rights, I can say I can give qualified support of that Government. But it is a movable feast.

The fact that Jeremy Corbyn has triumphantly survived as leader of the Labour Party for over a year can be seen as an encouraging paragraph in the history of British democratic politics. The parallel fact that huge swathes of the British establishment, including whole sections of his own party, are in mortal fear of his internationalist, humanistic values, tell us all we need to know about the much-heralded nobility of ‘British values’. Me, I’ll stick to the admittedly amorphous concept of ‘universal human values’ and leave the deeply flawed concept of ‘British values’ to the UKIP and Tory demagogues, rouges and charlatans that currently masquerade as the people’s champions. Patriotism and its imagined ‘values’ is still the last refuge of the scoundrel.

 End JPK Copyright, 4/1/17

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