Growing up in different parts of the world namely, the Kingdom of Swaziland and the United Arab Emirates, a key question I have faced is, “Where are you from?” to which I have always responded with “The UK” which is more often than not quickly met with a look of disdain or a follow up question, “No but where are you really from?” Apparently my skin colour denies me the right to call myself British.
I have the British passport on the basis of my parents having it and being born in Blackburn, England. So the next step is to figure out what do ‘British values’ actually mean? Well, In its press release on 27 November 2014, the Department for Education told all schools to promote 'British values' and according to Ofsted they are Democracy, The rule of law, Individual liberty and respect, Tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.
For me, I don’t understand the concept of democracy being a British value, otherwise we could technically go through the motion of a democratic referendum and revert to a monarchy with a single person deciding the future of our country. Democracy in the UK is only relevant because the British people have chosen it as the way the government is functional and will become irrelevant the day they decide to change the system so to say, using democratic means I hope. Don’t get me wrong I believe in democracy and if there ever was a democratic movement to abolish the system, I would be in the vanguard fighting them democratically every step of the way. With all that being said democracy is prevalent in a majority of the nations around the world so how does it make it distinctly British.
Skipping ahead the last 2 values according to Ofsted, can for me be all summarised by a single word freedom. Actually I’ll have to use a few more, I don’t believe in absolute freedom so I’ll go with ‘Freedom that does not infringe on another person’s freedom.’ Absolute freedom is absurd. There always must be some check on the people to ensure we do not violate another person’s freedom just to proclaim ours. For example no sane person would ever consider condoning the freedom to rape or the freedom to racially discriminate. So whilst the freedom must be checked to a certain extent, it should never go as so far to restrain the people though sometimes it seems there is a very fine line in-between. Now it could be argued, how is that British? Many countries around the world have inherent freedom but I disagree. We have seen a worldwide shift to right wing and conservative politics in many developed nations with the implementation of certain policies that infringe civil liberties such as the Patriot Act in USA, the Niqab ban in France and the Minaret Ban in Switzerland.
The Rule of law is another value that doesn’t make much sense to me. To me someone who doesn’t obey the law doesn’t necessarily disqualify him from being British except for possibly a few crimes which is a discussion for another day. Just because someone is found guilty of shoplifting does not mean he is not understanding of ‘British values’ whilst someone who acts to limit the freedom of let’s say religion on others would to me not be considered British. It’s a very slippery slope I know as it brings up the issue of revoking a person’s passport based on his actions.
The one value that everyone seems to forget and which is not included in Ofsted’s report is the freedom to health or the National Health Service as its more commonly known just the NHS. The NHS guarantees free at the point of care treatment for all Uk citizens, foreigners residing for more than 12 months or having recently moved on a permanent basis and asylum seekers. This is along with free emergency treatment for anyone and everyone in the UK. I have grown up with medicine all around me, my grandfather runs a charitable hospital in India and I have always had a keen interest in the sciences. I have witnessed medical practice in a number of countries and the key issue that always stands out is payment. For those who can afford reliable insurance, this issue is a non-starter as their lives are never affected but for the working class or for those who possibly missed a single premium payment falling sick could be the difference between putting bread on the table or their children going to sleep hungry. During my practice, I have had to discuss certain financial issues with the patient. After explaining to a patient what the recommended treatment is there is often a small pause whilst they look up or down never meeting your eyes before they ask “How much will it cost?” The answer to this question is never pleasant as more times than most whatever answer you give will result in an inhumane burden placed on the shoulders of the patient whilst they must debate the financial burden of treatment towards potential health risks and at times even death. The issue affects both patients and doctors and the NHS removes that burden from us for which I am utterly grateful. The NHS has been around for 67 years now (It actually celebrates its birthday today the 5th of July) so only 15 % of the population alive today has experienced a life without the NHS and even fewer will remember. The NHS was undoubtedly the Labour Party’s greatest accomplishment and we should take a moment to pause on this day of all days of how cruel and unforgiving life would be without it.
My thoughts can all be summarised that there are things and even people I don’t like or agree with, I undoubtedly love my country and until the day my interpretation of what ‘British Values’ are cease to exist, I will proudly bear a look of disdain when answering “Where are you from?”