Thursday, 11 February 2016

What are British values?



Article for the Walsall Advertiser Living Faith Column, published on Thursday 11 February 2016

Two weeks ago my wife, who is Polish, took the ‘Life In The UK’ test, which all applicants for British citizenship have to do.  In this test you have to answer 24 multiple choice questions relating to life in the UK, and are required to get at least 75% of the questions right in order to pass the test.

Some of the questions are straight forward, for example ‘When is Christmas Eve?’ but others are not so easy. For example: ‘When was the first public film shown in the UK?’, ‘What did the Reform Act of 1832 achieve?’ And ‘When did Sake Dean Hahomet die?’ (this is the man credited with opening the UK’s first curry house in 1810). It took one of our British friends, who has four degrees to his name, three attempts to scrape a pass on the practice test!  It is maybe not surprising therefore that a study by Thom Brooks of Durham University in 2013 described the Life In The UK test as a bad pub quiz, which many citizens born and bred in the UK would struggle to know the answers to.
For me it raises the interesting question of what does it actually mean to be British?  This has been an issue much in the news recently, with schools now required to teach ‘British values’, which the Government identifies as as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. 
Respect, tolerance and understanding, although not uniquely British values, are nonetheless values that we consider to be important in the UK.  These are values that are very much part of the Christian heritage of our nation, rooted as they are in the teachings of Jesus who called us to “Love your neighbour as yourself” and to “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (sometimes called the golden rule).    
It is because of these Christian values that Britain has had a proud history of welcoming refugees to our shores in times of crisis.  Whether that be the Huguenots fleeing persecution in France in the 18th century, or the Jew’s escaping the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s.
It is important that we don’t forget the Christian values of respect, tolerance and understanding that made Britain the country it is today, and that we don’t turn our backs on those who need our help today.