I’ve been off the past week poncing around Rome in a frilly shirt, and so am naturally gloomy about coming home.
Many are shocked about what happened in the city. After all, who would have thought that importing millions of people from totally different cultures would cause so many problems? You’d literally have to be Nostradamus to see that one coming. And of course, this is nothing to do with the intrinsic weakness of a society in which decadent urban westerners live side-by-side with large numbers of clannish Mirpuris, but ‘faith schools’ – which have been in England since the time of King Ethelbert of Kent, but now all of a sudden are a threat to social cohesion.
‘British values’ is a dread-inspiring term because, as was the case under New Labour, the ideas are likely to be either too vague or too debatable (this was the subject of a chapter in my book). Blair and Brown identified our values as to do with things like ‘tolerance’ and ‘fair play’, as if other nations identified themselves by their intolerance and cheating; more troubling, the values many talked about were contentious at best to my generation, and totally incomprehensible to my grandparents’ one – gay marriage, unlimited access to contraception and abortion, public displays of sexuality, all things which politicians said Muslim immigrants had to accept.
So I rather dread the thought of my kids being taught ‘British values’ at school, perhaps after the class where they make them put a condom on a dildo; and I suspect that these values will be alien to many of us, nothing like as alien as the Saudi-infused Islam of second-generation Pakistani migrants, but not the beliefs we live by.
We are stuck in a three-way culture war in which radical secularists are in conflict with socially conservative Christians, with both sides trying to use a third group, Islam, to aid their struggle. Atheists would like to abolish all faith schools to further their agenda, using the threat of sectarianism presented by Islam, while simultaneously avoiding the danger that their movement will become openly nativist; Church leaders are trying to use Muslims as socially conservative allies who also believe in ‘faith’, whatever the hell that means. The biggest victims of this Mexican stand-off are the young Muslims who have no clear path to integration, without an idea of what it means to become an Englishman, as Russian Jews attending the JFS did in the 1890s (the school was set up by Britain’s older, established Jewish community and specifically boasted of turning little Russians into English gentlemen, which it did).
Radical secularists and traditionalists have such different ideas of what British values mean that trying to teach them will only lead to failure, or the former’s victory over the latter. The best hope we have is to make sure as many children as possible learn to study Shakespeare, the King James Bible and the story of Magna Carta and Parliament. That is the essence of our culture – everything else is commentary.
More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 15 issues delivered for just £15, with full web and app access. Join us.