When my daughter was about five years old, she was given a babushka doll. It disappeared almost immediately into a box, where it remained until we came across it years later when she was packing away her childhood. With a slight shudder, she dropped it into the nearest charity bag. Apparently, she had found the face scary and the idea of things existing inside other things even scarier, so she had never played with it and she was relieved to see it go. And so it is with British values: scary on the face of it, even scarier when you unpack it, and we would all be glad to see them go.
As I outlined in my previous blog, British values as a concept is nothing new. According to the Prime Minister, they are, after all, as solid and reliable as fish and chips and the Union flag. The problem with the shiny new version is that it’s not really about its face at all; it’s about social revolution playing dress up; about things hiding inside other things.
Let’s begin with the face of it – democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. So far, so good. Democracy is a human construct and so not a Christian value, but Romans 13:1 says: ‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established’. Titus 3:1 reminds us to ‘be subject to rulers and powers, to be obedient’ and 1 Peter 2:13-14 says we should ‘Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors’, so it’s clear that we should support our democratically elected leaders and the institutions of the country.
Nor would people of faith argue against individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. The problem is, the respect and tolerance is anything but mutual. It’s rapidly becoming a one way street as Ofsted seeks to impose its monoculture. I have also written this week about Ofsted’s bullying of independent Orthodox Jewish schools in the cause of preparing children for life in modern Britain. Ofsted is extending its reach way beyond schools and into the social fabric of any communities which don’t comply. It’s social revolution – the reshaping of society by imposition from a government body. Not much liberty there then, and the face of British values is, on reflection, pretty scary.
So what’s inside the British values babushka doll? Let’s start with faith schools. There have been various calls for faith to be removed from our schools altogether – the Green Party has made it a point in its manifesto. It’s completely unworkable, of course, both because no government could afford to pick up the resulting bill, and also because no government is foolish enough to remove something that parents consistently want. So the new tack is to dilute the ethos by meddling with admissions procedures. Once the anti-faith school population reaches a critical mass, parents will start vetoing the faith content, leaving just the excellent education on offer. New thinking: don’t openly impose the monoculture, do it by stealth using secular parents.
Next layer: last autumn saw a new obsession with homophobic bullying, with LGBT rights becoming a British value. Without any thought for what happens when the imposition of a view about one protected characteristic comes into direct conflict with another, Ofsted went off on their infamous hunt to root out homophobia. When faith schools pointed out that they didn’t have to teach anything that conflicted with their conscience and also that parental opt out meant that children in some schools weren’t being taught about LGBT issues, Ofsted found another way around the issue. They simply made the existence of homophobic bullying (although not initially of race, of the disabled or people of faith) a safeguarding issue. So now, whether or not the school teaches an SRE programme which includes LGBT, they fail on safeguarding. Law protecting conscience nil, Ofsted one.
The CHIPS programme which is currently being implemented in more than 90 schools around the country also takes a clever new route into the classroom. The programme is cross-curricular and centred on literacy and music, so there is no parental opt out. Like British values, the programme has been around for several years without attracting much attention. Now suddenly it is becoming de rigueur as the LGBT lobby group seizes the opportunity for Ofsted to affirm its ideology.
The final, and scariest layer, is extremism. The careful placement of ‘neo-Nazi’ and ‘ISIS’ in speeches plays very effectively on public fear, allowing the government to implement measures such as the Prevent strategy that gain wide support, despite being itself extreme in its reach. Just as the last Parliament was dissolved, Home Secretary Theresa May delivered one such speech. The word ‘strong’ figured regularly, together with the aggressive rhetoric of victory through conflict. She also outlined the plan for ‘a step change in the way we help people to learn the English language. There will be new incentives and penalties, a sharp reduction in funding for translation services, and a significant increase in the funding available for English language training.’ Inspections of Orthodox Jewish schools in the last few weeks have borne out this newest British value – imposition of the English language is the latest way to reach into communities that don’t conform.
So, there’s the British values babushka doll. There are almost certainly more layers yet to be carved. The supreme irony is that the government is becoming exactly what it is trying to oppose – an extremist group which seeks to impose its singular ideology.