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Our country's non-negotiable values need to be properly specified

Before Britain can use these values for important decisions, they need definition in language the courts can apply.


16 August 2016

If people in any society are to live together, they need to agree on some common rules. The key rules of all societies are set out in laws, and violating those laws often results in criminal sanctions.

However, underlying the framework of laws is a collection of values which are shared by the members of the society. Agreement on values is needed for at least two reasons:

  1. Some things are very hard to legislate. The law can penalise you if you punch someone. However what does it mean to treat other people with respect? Yet if we do not treat people with respect, society rapidly degenerates because people can no longer have civil conversations with each other.
  2. Lawmaking in a democracy does not mean 51% of a population forcing their will on the other 49% on all issues. Instead there are a collection of shared assumptions regarding what types of legislation it is acceptable for the majority to enact, and what types it is not. These shared assumptions ultimately derive from shared values.

If a society's values are not shared, the result is division.

However if we are serious about shared values, we need to say what they are, and we need to define them in a way that is as inclusive as possible, while at the same time excluding those who do not share these values. I wrote about this in my 2011 piece "The Conservative Party, racial equality and national identity."

I have previously explained on my page "UK Home Secretary's speech on extremism" that so-called "British values" are not exclusive to Britain, and that I see these values as Islamic as well.

I returned to the subject in a piece published on Conservative Home, as I plan to write about the values in greater details. You can read it below.

Mohammed Amin: Our non-negotiable values need tighter definition

Mohammed Amin MBE is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He is writing in a personal capacity.

I didn’t ask to come to Britain; I was aged one and three quarters when my mother brought me here on my father’s instructions. I have stayed all my life, both for instrumental reasons but also because Britain and I share some fundamental values.

Being cosmopolitan, while I have no desire to relocate, I could imagine myself living in many other countries. Daniel Hannan MEP’s Anglosphere takes pride of place since in all those countries I can speak the language; even in the USA! However, if necessary I would be happy to live in any liberal democracy. Even in my mid-60s I could contemplate learning French, German, Hebrew or Japanese if I needed to live in the countries which speak those languages.

The fundamental feature which all the countries that I could contemplate voluntarily living in have in common is that they are all liberal democracies. A liberal democracy is not easy to define, but like an elephant you know one when you see it. All liberal democracies display significant cultural differences; even the Anglosphere countries differ markedly between themselves. However, all of them are distinguished by adhering to some core values.

There are many other countries which I would never want to live in long-term, even if I chose to work there for a short period of time. They are marked by the absence of these core values. Readers will have to guess which countries I have in mind, but I suspect there would be a high degree of overlap between readers’ guesses.

Ideologies matter

Our country has faced hostile threats from external actors, primarily states, on many occasions. The Kaiser’s Germany, Nazi Germany, the USSR and today Putin’s Russia to name just four.

Two of these, Nazi Germany and the USSR, had a superficially attractive ideology. A few Britons such as Oswald Mosley were attracted by Fascism and Nazism; thankfully too few to matter. Many more were attracted by Communism and as we saw with the Cambridge spy ring that can seriously harm our country. Conversely I am not aware of anyone finding Putin’s Russia ideologically attractive!

Apart from potentially hostile states, our greatest danger today comes from the ideology underlying violent-Islamist-extremism (hyphenated to emphasise that it is a compound noun). This has led many Britons, both immigrants and native born, to place ideology before patriotism and to seek to harm our fellow citizens. The ideology attracts both those born and raised as Muslims (such as three of the 7 July 2005 London bombers) and and also convert to Islam (such as the fourth bomber.) Security measures to counter the threat of violent-Islamist-extremism are necessary but insufficient; we also have to prevent our people being attracted to the ideology and to stop people promoting the ideology but without unduly limiting the freedom of speech our society values.

British values

Showing the weaknesses and failings of an undesirable ideology are not enough. We also need to put forward a compelling proposition setting out what we believe in, and why it is the best form of government known. Gordon Brown tried to do this by promoting “British values” and the coalition government eventually gave us an official list, which is quoted below from the Department for Education’s model funding agreement for academies, September 2015 version:

“2.47. The Academy Trust must ensure the Academy actively promotes the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.”

The first problem with the list, as many have pointed out, is that there is nothing exclusively British about these values. They are equally present in any liberal democracy. To avoid being side-tracked into arguments about whether they are really “British” we should rename them more realistically. Possible revised names would be “the values of liberal democracies” (the alternative formulation of “liberal democratic values” may not appeal to many Conservative Party members!) or “the values of a pluralistic society.”

Harder edges are needed

Once the list of values is agreed, it becomes a critical litmus test. In my opinion, if you do not subscribe to the values you are not fit to be a teacher, a civil servant or a Parliamentarian. I would also refuse naturalisation as a British citizen to anyone who does not subscribe to the values.

However, if we are to operationalise these values, then we have to be able to divide people into sheep and goats based on their actions and utterances, rather than simply asking them whether they agree with the values. Furthermore, the list of values must use legally precise language, since courts will have to be able to consider appeals against such classification decisions.

That requires much more expansion of the list of values, and some detailed analysis of what they mean. Very little seems to have been done so far but I will put forward my own suggestions in future articles.


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