“Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?” pleaded Tony Hancock in an episode of Hancock’s Half Hour (titled, topically at the time, Twelve Angry Men). Well, Magna Carta means something to Young Dave, because he’s putting it at the centrepiece of his magnificently empty rhetoric about British Values, in the wake of the Trojan Horse plot, which still wasn’t a plot.
“This week there has been a big debate about British values ... I’m clear about what these values are – and I’m equally clear that they should be promoted in every school and to every child in our country ... a belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law – are the things we should try to live by every day”. Jolly good sheow!
Then Cameron gets on to a slightly stickier track: “Our freedom doesn’t come from thin air. It is rooted in our parliamentary democracy and free press. Our sense of responsibility and the rule of law is attached to our courts and independent judiciary. Our belief in tolerance was won through struggle and is linked to the various churches and faith groups that have come to call Britain home”.
At this point, the bullshit detector sounded long and loud. There are all kinds of glaring flaws in the PM’s argument – Owen Jones has an interesting personal angle on them HERE – but, for me, Cameron is in serious trouble when he sounds off about “parliamentary democracy and a free press”, especially in the year when we commemorate 100 years since the start of The Great War.
World War 1 was the last war when the ruling class, by whatever means, caused the working man to do their bidding, which all too often meant being slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands under the leadership of staggeringly incompetent leaders like Douglas Haig (who was, in his own retelling, a hero). The overwhelming majority of ordinary soldiers from the UK did not even have the vote.
“Parliamentary democracy”? Only after so many had been sacrificed was the property qualification removed, and all men over 21 enfranchised. Women had to wait until 1929 to see all their voices heard at a General Election. “Tolerance”? The Tories opposed legislation like the Race Relations Acts tooth and nail – the last of these was passed into law just 38 years ago.
“Free press”? The only significant newspapers not under the control of Rupert Murdoch, Lord Rothermere, the Barclay Brothers, Richard Desmond or Evgeny Lebedev are the Mirror titles, and Guardian Media Group. That’s not so free. And that not so free press wastes no time beating up on, and seeking to influence, that “Independent Judiciary”. Or has Dave forgotten the Leveson Inquiry already?
By all means talk about British values. But let us be honest about it.