Tuesday 17 June 2014

Those British values

British values: Not rocket science.
There has been much debate as to what constitutes British values. There are many puzzled faces since few know how to even approach defining them.  But really if you want an insight into what British values are, one need only go as far as the local law courts and look at the sentencing of criminals and how it priorities offences.

The fact that we did not sentence the murderer of Lee Rigby to death says that we are a tolerant and merciful society. The fact that we balanced to aggravating factors in the case of the one-punch killer in Bournemouth resulting in a mere four years sentence says that, while the the pitchfork wielding public demand hanging, our courts still meticulously consider all the facts and balance the needs of the public for punishment with the need for justice. We don't always like it, but the public are not always tolerant of nuances. It is good that the courts are.

Of course our courts can and do get things wrong but we have mechanisms of appeal and a mechanism of judicial review. It isn't a perfect system, but it's better than the alternatives, and it is preferable to the summary justice of China which employs mobile execution vans.

Then when it comes to petty crime such as speeding, the letter of the law is followed without mercy. We value the rule of law. It pisses a great many of us drivers off, but if we want to change it, we notionally have democratic mechanisms by which we can change the law. We can campaign and lobby because despite the constant encroachment of paranoia and petty officialdom, we still have freedom of speech.

My own criminal conviction turned not on the morality of the case, but the procedure of the law. We value due process and we frown on cavalier expediency. The pitfall of our system is that law and morality are not always on the same side.  The state protects the order of things, because we value order.

But then we also value courtesy and patience. We British have a reputation for needlessly queuing  because it speaks to our need for fairness and orderliness. We frown on road-hogs and we dislike inconsiderate behaviour such as spitting and swearing. We don't like inconsiderate people who cause delays at the ticket machine on the underground and we're terribly sniffy about people disturb the peace.

We also regard those perpetual welfare cases as lazy. That's because we value self-sufficiency and we do not like to be a burden on our neighbours.  The Twitter feed "Very British Problems" tells you an awful lot about who we are.

But these values are slowly being undermined by the mechanisation of justice and the bureaucratisation of policing. Our justice system depends on fairness and as computers slowly take over the administration of out lives we become slaves to computer algorithms where human judgement is eradicated from the system. This is obliterating fairness in our justice system, so evidenced by me being sent a demand for £85 in charges for being nine pence in council tax arrears.

Further to this we have a standard fare story from the Daily Mail whereby a van driver pulls over to let police bikes pass - only to be hit with £512 fine for driving in a bus lane. The problem was made all the worse when he failed to receive the letter ordering him to pay the fine, meaning his vehicle was later clamped. He was left facing a fine to prevent bailiffs towing the vehicle. Justice has left the building. That vital human element is now missing from our justice system.

This will be further aggravated by legal aid reforms, which I will go into another time, but essentially they mean our once great justice system, the model for all liberal democracies, will be reduced to little more than a speak-your-weight machine. The entire system is being corporatised, not for greater value, but for the convenience of the state - without reducing the burden on the taxpayer.

Because we place undue trust in the system, and do not hold it to proper democratic scrutiny, and after centuries of it being a reasonable system that has kept the peace, we have become complacent, docile and obedient. And that is why we are sleepwalking into tyranny. Whatever laudable British values we have, we are in serious danger of losing touch with them.

While we have enviable values, there is an emerging ugliness to the British character and unless we rediscover our inherent "awkward squad" tendencies, the state will walk all over us. After sixty years of statism, in most Brits there is an inner curtain-twitching fascist who lives in the constant paranoia that somebody somewhere might be getting a larger slice of the pie, and is ever keen to report their neighbour to the law machine. Consequently, we are a nation who spits on success and worships mediocrity. It is telling in the television we watch and the people we elect.

Now it is time to act. We have to make a stand against petty officialdom, and it is long past the time we started hissing over our eye-watering tax burden. If we do not wake up and start speaking up for British values, we will lose them.

The politicians may not be able to define British values, and maybe things are not so clear cut as I have defined, but we all know there is something exceptional about being British that makes somehow just a little bit better than the riff raff, and that is why we have exported or values to the world. But given the rapid decay of those institutions that make us great, it is little wonder then that we have lost confidence in exporting our values to the developing world.  Soon there will be little left of them that we can be proud of.

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