Is a new Battle for Britain and Britishness underway, less visually heroic and inspiring than the one fought in 1940? Certainly the media and politicians seem busily laying down the rules of engagement with classrooms the line of defence by teaching ‘Britishness’ and ‘British values’ (though not necessarily ‘British virtues’) once they have decided what these are. Also wading in is nostalgia. However, are these suggestions merely equipping future generations to be poorly paid actors in a third rate national theme park?
The next generation will require being equipped with the skills, knowledge, attitude and environment to be prosperous in a competitive world, safe in a dangerous world and happy amongst all the change, decay and uncertainty around them. It is hard to see how any politician’s views of where we are today and how we got here will be of much use in future?
What is needed is a ‘future-proof’ Britishness, not how we are today (or may have been yesterday), but what we will become, because without it, the quality of life in this country would be worse. Fortunately, in this quest we are extremely well endowed: by past generations, what they did for us, what we can learn from them; our experiences and what we see around us; and what we are through our traditions, culture, institutions and history etc. This richness is there (by accident or intent) for our benefit to improve our current quality of life and for future generations to draw on for inspiration, enjoyment, practical precedents and to build on what we bequeath them.
‘Britishness’ then is a conceptual framework of knowledge, assumptions, ideas and existing heritage to serve us in future for living individually and as a society; most importantly it is something of real value. However, it is being undermined by the ruling Establishment and, therefore, we and future generations are being impoverished. This comes about because our Britishness effectively provides a secure anchor for the future from the present and the past. Without the Britishness context everything is on the same level, making values and virtues insecure; we become more easily manipulated, and less confident. World history is littered with examples of destruction of cultural heritage and learning by the tyrannical.
A Personal View of Future-Proof Britishness
Below are some examples of future-proof Britishness; these run deeply in our collective story and could help future generations to be prosperous, safe and happy, and a beacon of hope for the world.
Courageous and irreverent individuality – We are not nails to be hammered into orthodox conformity and submission by power, ideology, custom or fear; our heroic efforts (to defy omnipotent power, the elements, the laws of physics, disease and social injustice etc.) and humour have a long and inspiring history.
Empiricism – We see the world as it is, not as our rulers imagine it to be and pragmatically respond (sometimes slowly) to what we experience; ‘Necessity is the Mother of Invention’, Scientific Method and political thought on liberty (and democracy) with their associated progress and openness are some of the observable results; also honesty, truthfulness, and respect for the law.
Winning (at sports and everything else) – as the country that invented or popularised most competitive team and individual sports, these days we often lack resolution or commitment and neglect finding ways of leading or coming first in sports, science, business, charity etc.
Craftsmanship (precision and subtlety) and aesthetic functionality – Our great works of art tend to also interact brilliantly with the user, from the Lindisfarne Gospels through ‘Pride and Prejudice’ to the Spitfire and sports cars.
Value-adding work – From Elizabethan times (and earlier) we have been able to compete successfully for hearts, minds and money with inventiveness, limited resources and efficient or disciplined application. Our Industrial Revolution made toil more value-adding, but our folly destroyed our world -leading industries.
Institutions – We are brilliant at establishing organisations, institutions and communities which serve a worthy purpose and working together in them. Our most successful creation is the country we live peacefully in. Our biggest failure is not to understand, keep and improve what we inherited.
Noble humanity and compassion – Not only are we compassionate, we also recognise it as a noble activity, sometimes even a duty or responsibility which motivates action and self-sacrifice. Maude Heath of Chippenham and William Widmore of Winchester were just some of our ordinary people who did extra-ordinary things.
Christian Practicalism – A Christian imperative has often underlain progress, which led to improvements in physical wellbeing. Also our cultural heritage and physical landscapes have been enriched by the activities of Christians. Our strands of Christianity in future (perhaps more secular) combining empiricism, moderation, pragmatism and humanity could enrich and empower us all.
Self-Restraint, Responsibility and Reciprocity (the Golden Rule ethical code) – these align with the best of traditional British virtues and are needed for businesses and society to work well.
Truest friend and most formidable adversary – this is a summary of the above and more; what we have often been in the past and what we could strive to be in future. Yet can we do this whilst still ruled by those responsible for our decline and loss of identity?
The best of Britishness and British values could help us to have a better future, whilst we can help the world to a better future by being authentically, joyously and boldly British.