In July, Gordon Brown published a green paper called "The Governance of Britain." The final section said that we need to be clearer about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and what it means to be British. It proposed "to work with the public to develop a British statement of values." We asked 50 writers and intellectuals to give us their thoughts on this statement and what should inform itby prospect / October 27, 2007 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2007 issue of Prospect Magazine
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Page 1: Rushanara Ali—Ed Husain
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Rushanara Ali Think-tanker
The government’s initiatives on citizenship and a statement of British values have been met with a mix of encouragement and scepticism. Inevitably, the scepticism revolves around whether there are such things as British values given that so many of our values are shaped by more universal values, and no single nation has a monopoly over the ideas of democracy, equality and the principles of human rights. But the real test of whether a statement of values is meaningful will be based on our everyday experience, whether we are genuinely treated equally as citizens, whether we feel a sense of belonging and pride in who are as a nation. That means taking practical steps to enable the whole population to be a part of the national story, as opposed to the current situation, where many feel they are outsiders and lack a sense of belonging.
Paul Barker Journalist
In his great work The Civilising Process, the German Jewish sociologist Norbert Elias (1897-1990)—who took refuge in Britain from the Nazis—made it clear that the highest achievement in any society was to evolve ways of resolving differences without resort to violence. This achievement, where it is attained, is a spectrum which ranges from everyday civility to the protections of legislation. The laws are part of an entire ethos. They do not, in themselves, create that ethos; but they do help to ratify it. On the Elias criterion, Britain is much less civilised than when he wrote. (The Civilising Process was published in German in 1939; translated into English in 1978-82.) In-growing alienation in the suburbs of Leeds leads to bombs on the London underground. The creation of so-called “vibrant” cities—but let’s give that creepy adjective a rest—goes hand in hand with riotous city centres that many local people go to great lengths to avoid. (Have you recently seen Leicester Square, or Sunderland High Street, on a Friday night?) On a Halifax housing estate, two sisters quarrel about a boyfriend; each girl stabs the other. In London and Manchester, murders of teenagers by other teenagers are starting to drift down into routine inside-paragraphs in the newspapers; this was something that astonished me when I first saw it in the Chicago press, but everything crosses the Atlantic eventually. Civilisation, in Elias’s sense, is the value we need to move back to.