Victor Hugo's resounding reflection, "England has two books, the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare, but the Bible made England" encapsulates the birth of modern Britain before the influxes of immigration took hold, and society changed her tack.
Ask an individual on the street today in England what they believe to be the accepted values or heritage of British society, and one may be quoted equal rights, Magna Carta, the freedom to go about one's business without perverse snooping or perhaps a simple answer “tea and crumpets”.
David Cameron, while Prime Minister, was once asked what his understanding of British values was, as, one would hope as our leader, he should know best. His definition encompassed his impassioned respect for British institutions, the rule of law, freedom, tolerance and our social responsibilities to uphold these as individuals. Perhaps this had been cobbled together phrase to 'encapsulate British society' by one of his advisers. If you had a chance to challenge him further on these ideals, you may find little to flesh these ideas out.
In times of empire
The elephant in the room on the nature of values is that for the average Brit today they have become idealised. One need not look too far into the pages of history to realise obvious and despicable instances of Imperialist Britain committing atrocities throughout her colonies. Submission of the Indian subcontinent, notably the Black Hole of Kolkatta; through to the slave trade and concentration camps in the Cape. Centuries of evidence attesting to a contemptible lack of tolerance and respect for the equality of the human 'sub-species' we ruled over.
The hypocritical belief that one can impose a way of thinking on another, while simultaneously demand concessions is deeply un-British. One is left to serve up loaded notions of nationalist superiority. However, when 'history is written by the victors', are we really all that surprised when indifference is applied to the crimes of the past as belonging to a different era, and so not accountable in the modern world. A chequered patchwork in British history replacing one doctrine with another to suit the appetite of the time.
The notion we had desirable British values to uphold in the first instance is lost in the grandeur of our self-righteous historical perspective. However, that is not to say the Empire did not provide values to aspire to. One such instance lies in the Malay Peninsula, notably the East-India trading ports of Penang and Singapore in which land ownership could be claimed by how many trees one could clear. Beyond these localised regions, the Imperial doctrine imposed strict fines of 2 Malaysian ringgits - significant for the time - per tree as one went further inland to discourage deforestation and degradation of the resources and land. Arguably a most responsible law in upholding conservation, especially by contrast with policies which could not seem farther from reality in Malaysia today. Beyond the National Parks, rainforest is burned and cleared at a rate of knots to pave way for palm oil plantations in a vain attempt to realise short term gains before your neighbour outcompetes you. Corruption and under the table deals have lain waste to a once beautiful, tropical paradise, absent of the overarching influence and laws imposed by the colonialists. Values preserving law and order and respect which today's society could look back and be proud of.
The notion we had desirable British values to uphold in the first instance is lost in the grandeur of our self-righteous historical perspective.
A generation forgotten
Today's society in England could not be much further from these times. Senior citizens, once heralded and admired for their wisdom, are not longer respected but scorned by their younger generations as a drain on society, their own free time and resources. A youth too caught up in their own self-gratification, they fail to observe and listen to the stories and advice generations of acquired wisdom has taught them. If you have entered a room in which the average age is retirement upwards and stopped to listen, you may have been be stunned at the visceral clarity in which ideas were spun and addressed. But perhaps also ashamed for having dismissed their opinions or capacity to entertain an interesting distilled conversation because they are not technologically savvy or 'forward-thinking'.
This failing in our society today is perhaps one of the more downhearted and depressing aspects in relationships of the twenty-first century. If we cannot care for and respect our elders, the matriarchs and patriarchs as the bedrocks of our families, then what hope have we for our relationships today?
Fickle, superficial and demanding disregard to those around us who merely desire equal respect and understanding. Our senior citizens have paid an average of £800,000 in taxes over their lifetimes, only to be informed in an off-hand budgetary statement, that their social care is to be cut once more.
Age of austerity
While our economy underwent austerity measures, £16 million was sent to support Ethiopia's Spice Girls girl band project to inspire positive behaviour change. Alongside other speculative and unpopular 'development funds' to countries described by none other than David Cameron as being 'fantastically corrupt'. Projects such as the Spice Girls will not feed the hungry of Ethiopia, nor prevent the spread of HIV or malaria in a country plagued by impoverishment. As Peter Bone, Tory MP, remarked, "up-the-wall projects such as this show why we must not have an aid pledge linked to GDP. This is not helping starving people, this is not helping refugees.”
Foreign British aid projects are just one such window outlining the failings in government misspending. John Caudwell, Britain's largest taxpayer and previous Phones4U founder turned property magnate and philanthropist, condemns the calamitous misappropriation of government budgets, alongside the unnecessary paperwork and red tape strangulating British start-ups and entrepreneurialism within the UK.
How such outlandish expense can be spared while our homeless are left on the streets of Britain, for lack of a better opportunity, represents a society that is failing. Failing to meet the needs of its poor, its helpless and its struggling. Homeless individuals have often worked and paid taxes, yet have not been supported. When times fell tough they have found themselves out rough, sleeping unsafe on the streets. At least their consciences will rest easy as they know their tax contributions will go toward the £365,000,000 refurbishment of Buckingham Palace. If these are the values that represent British society today, one in which the poor are blocked out by passers by on the streets, then they are not worth the breath of uttering them. Political commentator Jonathan Pie succinctly put the homeless problem into a modern, youth orientated perspective as he addressed the obvious truth no one wanted to realise: 'the more the problem gets in your way as you walk down the street, the harder you have to try to look away'.
Law and order
A social justice system crumbling at the seams under budget cuts, to an NHS undersupplied and readily abused or front line army personnel lacking the necessary ammunition, air support or communications devices; all examples testament to the poor decisions made from above. It is not for lack of money, for which there is more than enough to go around, but for ill advised policy decisions and a government with a lack of appreciation for listening to its people.
A police force fearful for their careers and reputation in the midst of an apathetic public are used as punch bags in town centres on Friday and Saturday nights by inebriated individuals. The rich irony resides when the police are sued or dismissed for misconduct later by complaints made by the offending parties, often with better legal rights than the officer or the law. It may seem too implausible to believe and yet here we are.
Forgetting the lessons of the past
The memory of our 'Glorious Dead' from two World Wars, and current servicemen and women today, to whom we pay tribute and thanks are insulted by a Football establishment who fine our Football teams for wearing poppies. Yet, instead of boycotting any further competition under their perverse regulation as we should, we will pay the fine and wear the slight for fear of reprisals from advertising bodies and the wider footballing community. Respect for the past and to learn from the mistakes in history so that we may postpone their repetition should be a key value in Britain today. However, the past is scorned in equal fashion to those instances above.
We pursue wars and 'peacekeeping missions' with our allies and yet have some of the worst track records of returning the favour to our own servicemen. Those who went on duty in Northern Ireland are pursued for crimes while the remaining IRA hide in anonymity without dynamic pursuit, left in peace to their own devices.
Sergeant Alexander Blackman remains in jail on a reduced life sentence for 'murder of the first degree in the field of duty', after briefly losing mental stability during a 'mercy killing' of a Taliban insurgent. Cases such as these reach the forefront of public media attentions while the illegal drugs industry flourishes and the trade in illicit immigrants to the UK remains a hazy grey area for British nationals who are found to be involved. If abandoning our own is another instance of the 'British way', then may God have mercy on us all.
The tide of Globalisation has washed over our shores in a torrent the Thames barrier floodgates could hardly hope to control. Our economy has opened herself up to the wider world, signing new trade deals and agreements, and restructuring to specialise in areas which suit our absolute and relative advantages. Meanwhile, the Government has stood by idly. The structural unemployed are left to fend for themselves, in particular those with non-transferable skills in industries such as steel and coal. National industries, privatised from the 1980s onwards, are gradually sold off to foreign entities or out competed on price leading to their timely closure.
Our national government once again doing a fine job of bending over to foreign companies with UK operations that can and should remain, afraid to criticise or act, for fears of being sued or threats of investment being withdrawn, followed through with. The belief Britain is obliged to uphold the freedoms of her citizens, is waved off without remorse as we leave communities at mercy of the tide of Globalisation without salvage. Unemployed left without supplemented transitory incomes, nor training and education to help adjust to the economic structural changes as we shift further toward a services and quaternary based economy.
The belief Britain is obliged to uphold the freedoms of her citizens, is waved off without remorse as we leave communities at mercy of the tide of Globalisation without salvage.
Brexit, indecision and the EU
A Prime Minister ushered into office by vote of a select few within the country. Added to which she accepts cold shouldering by the other EU leaders as they talk in their own languages deliberately in front of her and refuse to pull a cracker with her at the annual Christmas party. Petty quibbles one may expect in a children's playground tuff, and yet Teresa May decides to overlook these, rather than walk out adamant and resolute.
When our Government Ministers pander to foreign supranational bodies, ousted by means of an internal popular seceding vote, they should pursue the will of the people, however ill advised. Rather than Cameron's meek decision to avoid taking responsibility for any direction the UK should take subsequent to us voting 'against' his vision. Any matter that which involves having to make a decision in politics is a public relations nightmare. Indecisiveness reigns.
Meanwhile, the newly appointed Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, fully endorses the UK's contribution to the global arms trade, welcoming once more the International Arms Fair to our Capital. Of particular note, the reciprocity of Saudi incursions into Yemen, utilising our arms in return for future direct access to Saudi Arabian oil reserves. While all this madness ensues, Johnson demands ISIL are tried for war crimes in the international criminal court as Aleppo burns under British shells and missiles, indirectly financed by, once again, Saudi Arabia.
Religious extremism and polarisation
Tackling the illusion of existential threats to our way of life and personal safety from the agents of religious fundamentalism does not neatly align with policies designed to promote freedom of religion and private worship. As Baroness Warsi, the Minister for Faith and Communities, commented on the distances between groups in British society today, "We need to make sure all communities in this country feel like they are British and they are part of the whole".
The existing state of affairs is culturally or ethnically distinct 'enclaves' of faith, not so dissimilar to the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica, in which the massacres ensued, not integrating with the wider British community in learning the English language, accepting our cultural behests, but scorning the wider society as divisive and racist. This reservist attitude lead to proliferations of rumours and fears, creating a 'them' and 'us'. As the history books shall tell us once more, emphasising the difference between two sub cultural identities only leads to further polarisation, and negative consequences, marked by the rise in populist or national collectivist movements in the UK and beyond.
Solving our lost Values: humanist ethics
Fortunately, the future is not all doom and gloom for our nation. Simple accommodating principles are found in Humanist Ethics, without running the risk of labelling these standards as solely and exclusively by association 'British'. This strand of ethics is formulated upon egalitarian principles, "any man should respect another, irrespective of class, race or creed" for there to exist "fundamental moral principles he should count as freedom, justice and tolerance".
Humanist ethics is broad enough in scope to allow for religion in society, but distinct from secularised policymaking. They do not need teaching by rote curriculum, but applied directly in society. Schools should not select on race, sex, creed or affiliation. Access to information should be transparent. Dress codes should be uniform throughout. Prioritisation should not be made to any one class by means of adherence to faith. Removing divisive institutions allows society and the values we mistakenly believe we uphold, to take on actual significance and meaning.
Practice renders our government with a challenging geometrical circle to square up. Faith schools are outmoded representations of divided societies. Now David Cameron has gone, his successor may be able to U-turn the Government's backing of faith schools, to instead promote religious tolerance as an archetype of progress, unshackled from fears of indoctrination or preferential treatment.
Non-British observers may query whether instilling fundamental values in British society is a means of bringing back imperial measurements and re-establishing the 'Empire'.
Mainland Europeans may associate us with tea, queuing and understatement. However, in order for us to ensure we do not retreat further into the safe havens of our differences, adopting sound principles that underpin our society may be the answer - should we be able to implement them without significant, yet misguided, public backlash.
The application of guiding principles requires an understanding of their importance and why their protection is integral to society's wellbeing. All of this without an explicit mention of 'British Values', since we are far too British for that. TMM