Values and Principles II

by Elias Blum

It is so much easier to ask folks to be true to values and principles, as recently proposed by a member of the Tory government, when you actually have some values and principles in the first place.

That requires identifying those values and principles, in a way that makes them distinct from just the policy preferences of incumbent governments. It means building a broad consensus around what those values and principles mean – what implications they have for the state and society – and enscribing these in a document with some sort of overarching authority. I hate to mention the ‘C-word’, as we refer to it in our house, but it’s very difficult to talk about the public articulation of ‘national values’ without thinking in terms of Constitution building. 

For example, if you want to say that ‘democracy’ is a British value, then what implications does that have for the House of Lords, First Past the Post, the Crown Prerogative, and that damned anti-democratic insistence on the sovereignty of Parliament? If you say you believe in ‘freedom’, what does that mean for attempts to repeal the Human Rights Act or impose the ‘snooper’s charter’? If you say you believe in tolerance, what does that mean for racist immigrant-blaming, or witch-hunts against those who oppose Brexit? If you want to assert some sort of generalised idea of decency, what does that have to say about prison conditions, homelessness, the way we treat the disabled, or the sale of weapons to middle eastern despots?

Last but not least, if you are to assert these things as ‘British’ values, you need to have an agreed – not imposed – concept of Britishness that can accommodate four distinct nations within it. So, yes, great idea, but if it is to be anything more than a silly gimmick or an exercise in organised hypocrisy, it is essentially a revolutionary proposal for genuinely constitutional democracy.