Saturday, August 08, 2009

On 'British values'

I came across this via the artist formerly known as Will Rubbish, which has to do with Her Majesty's Government proposals to impose on immigrants more stringent criteria where they have to demonstrate their commitment to British values. Apparently one of the ways in which they can do so is by canvassing for a political party and... ach, you'll have read the rest already.

One scarcely knows where to begin with this nonsense. I'll perhaps write something more substantial later but for now a couple of points spring to mind.

1) I was amused that putative British citizens can gain extra points by opting to live in Scotland. Thing is, here they would find a reasonably sized minority that don't share 'British values' because they believe that Britain in its present form should cease to exist. Now while this minority are admittedly a royal pain in the ass, they remain British subjects - not because they like it, or because they cleave to 'British values' but simply because it is a legal reality. So why are conditions being imposed on immigrants that don't apply to those who are already British citizens?

2) If you were to ask a random sample of people to come up with a list of 'British values' I'd imagine you'd find, if people even agreed such a body of values actually exists, that there would be substantial disagreement as to what they actually were. For example, if I were asked, I'd have something to say about social morality and civility being tempered by a vague notion of "the done thing", which has to do with custom and precedent but because it isn't really amenable to codification, it is flexible enough to adapt to changing social mores.

And here's one social custom that I really hope doesn't change: it is that it simply is not the done thing in Britain to make a song and dance about identity or indeed to confuse culture with membership of a legal order. In this sense, I would argue that it is the Government that is showing contempt for British values because we have a long tradition of accepting immigrants and political dissidents of various kinds and the notion that ostentatious displays of loyalty should be required of these now is something of a modern aberration quite out of keeping with traditional British values.

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