Let me surprise my readers. I think one of the best things the left has done over the last couple of decades is persuade more people in the UK that racism is unacceptable. The UK is a more tolerant and better place today.
If The Prime Minister’s speech is to succeed, it needs to be seen as a call for strong moderate British values to unite a nation. We condemn extremism of all types – we should dislike the religious and political fanatics who think their creed is the only right one to be pursued by violent or dishonest means, but we should also dislike those who think there is a single or pure British way which they wish to enforce. The values I most admire in Britian are the values of tolerant democracy.
We do need to appreciate a common history and a common inheritance. Of course I feel proud of the conventional sucesses of our island story. 1588 and the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Trafalgar and Waterloo in 1805 and 1815, and Berlin in 1945 were proud moments. They have something in common. England, then the UK, stood against the tyranny of a dominant continental power. In1588 they fought for the right of the English nation to choose its own religion and government, and for the right of the Dutch to be independent of Spanish rule. In the 1800s they fought to prevent France determining the government and rules of much of Europe and enforcing her decisions by military power. In 1945 we were a crucial part of an alliance against fascism and ugly anti semitism.
I also feel proud of the bigger story, the progress of Britain as a pioneer of democracy and human rights. The landmarks in this journey include Catholic Emancipation, the abolition of slavery, the invitation of Jews into civil and political life, the enfranchisement of working men and women, and the wider ownership movement of the twentieth century. No-one who studies British history and who wants to help promote the best of our values can deny there have been murkier times and attitudes in our past that had to be vanquished by the brave. Catholics were oppressed for many years, and there were bad cases of extremist violence by some Catholic groups. The UK exploited the profits of the slave trade, before better judgement led to its end. There was a long period of anti semitism in Britain, finally ended by a nation that had to confront the horrors of extreme anti semitism in 1940s Germany.
So what is the essence of Britishness, what are the UK principles that we should believe in and enforce. I think they are these:
We believe in tolerant democracy.
We believe that we settle our differences by wrestling words and votes, not arms and bullets
We believe that the majority has the right to prevail, but it does not have the right to oppress the minorities
We believe that the minorities have the right to free expression and the quiet enjoyment of their differences. They do not have the right to resort to violence or illegal means to try to get their way
We do not believe that any creed or ideology has sole right to lord over us all, but we do believe we all have the right to our creed and ideology to enjoy without upsetting others
The sovereign principles are those of tolerant democracy, the best way to try to live in harmony, to settle disputes, and reach some common purpose.