The emptiness of ‘British values’

The emptiness of ‘British values’. By Ed West.

“We are Britain and we have one dream to unite all people in one Great Team”. So declares the One Britain One Nation campaign, the group behind today’s catchily named OBON (One Britain, One Nation) Day. To mark this date of national unity children are encouraged to clap for front line workers and sing a patriotic song that features the stirring chorus:

“Strong Britain, Great Nation
Strong Britain, Great Nation
Strong Britain, Great Nation
Strong Britain, Great Na-a-a-tion”

The lyrics do rather make it sound like it could have been an anthem from some Balkan or central Asian country which has repeatedly suffered military humiliation over the past centuries. …

Since OBON day got the support of the Department for Education, the idea of children singing the country’s praise attracted the usual measured response. Some compared it to North Korea …

There were few fans, and just as Orwell observed that Britain could never become fascist because we laughed at military parades, so today we could never become nationalists because any official attempt at unity would make everyone cringe.

But then multiculti landed:

Sure “Strong Britain, Great Nation” is not quite “La Marseillaise”, but then the cynics are hardly sympathetic. In particular, I have little sympathy for complacent ageing liberals who guffaw that such things are “Not British”; a lot of things that happen in this country might once have appeared very un-British, and you didn’t do anything to stop those. Times change.

Indeed, our historic lack of flag-waving reflects the confidence that comes from having an ancient political history, the kingdom of England being almost 1100 years old; it comes from being a country which until the mid-20th century had little racial diversity and no memory of foreign rule. A country like that didn’t need its schoolchildren to sing about the dream of unity; it went without saying.

Multicultural countries in contrast need to shout about what they have in common, which is why the United States made such an effort to enforce a secular national faith, making children salute the flag and forcing poor southern European immigrants to deny the obvious superiority of football and instead pretend to enjoy America’s incomprehensibly boring national sports. Multicultural Britain needs to do something similar, rather than relying on ancient cynicism and irony. …

What binds a nation’s people together?

But the main problem with all these programmes [warbling on about British values]  is that this is not how nations are forged.

Countries don’t have values, they have characteristics, which can also change; before the 18th century the English were famous for their melancholy, while since then they have been characterised by their sense of humour (and very low suicide rate).

A country’s characteristics are a product of what does make a nation — a history, and a common narrative. … Nations are stories that have been told about a people, often a story of struggle. The first thing that nation-builders do, after trying to enforce a common language, is to create a narrative history; in France, which before the Revolution was a hugely diverse place in which only 10% of people spoke French, this was far more deliberate. “Our ancestors, the Gauls” was a policy of unification to a group of people who spoke 55 different languages. …

Similarly Scottish nationalism has been hugely spurred by narrative, in particular Braveheart, a film that did more to promote national identity than a million campaign groups, and, arguably, the folk music of The Corries. (Nationalists always have better song than unionists, I’m afraid.)

If the rulers of multicultural Britain wish to forge a nation, then songs and stories are far more powerful than ideas about values. The problem is that liberal democracies tend to be weak at nation-building, because the principles of consensus and tolerance do not provide the oxytocin necessary for group solidarity. That hormonal high is only triggered by a sense of out-group threat, and the subsequent desire to defend — and make sacrifices. …

It’s hard to build a common narrative because the different peoples of Britain in 2021 don’t really have a common history. What little they do share is often unhappy and exploitative — and cannot possibly be taught in a way that satisfies everyone.

That explains the meteoric rise to prominence of Mary Seacole, a woman who lived an extraordinary life but has become a bizarrely overly-important historical figure in schools. All history is about the age in which it is written, and so it is with Seacole, the Jamaican-born nurse who has become a 21st-century construction.

Alternatively, there is the desperate and inane idea of “progressive history”, featuring a parade of losers from the Levellers to the Chartists. But if a 14-year-old in a London comprehensive isn’t inspired by Nelson bleeding to death after destroying the French fleet with massive cannons, do you really think listening to Tony Benn talking about the Putney Debates is going to do it? …

Future governments are going to have to wrestle with this issue, to teach a new idea of Britishness for a new nation. Songs are not a bad start, sneering aside, but they need to tell us something more meaningful if they’re going to move us. They need to tell a story, of heroic failure and victory, of hope for the future, and the nation united in wanting to win.

Unstated is that a nation is like an extended family, related by kin. Families with step-members don’t stick together quite so well.

All those blood libels of anti-white racism aren’t helping any.

hat-tip Stephen Neil