THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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British values

Alternately the most amusing and depressing aspect of British politics is the periodic discussion about "British values". Having lived outside Britain for half my adult life, I have a different perspective on the subject. Firstly, I find it odd that - although the most common "value" first named in such debates is "diversity" and/or "respect for other cultures", no-one baulks at elevating our values above those of other nations. Isn't the concept that there is anything different or superior about our values the last remnant of imperialism? Especially when the "values" listed are the merest commonplaces. Honesty, openness and fair play, equality before the law, politeness and tolerance are scarcely unknown in other countries. Far from having a monopoly on them, the other cultures in which I have lived generally regard modern Britain as rather deficient.

The courteous English gentleman exists only in literature, for all practical purposes. The French nickname of "les fuckoffs" is a more accurate stereotype. I can certainly never walk down a British high street without hearing Britain's favourite verb in its transitive, reflexive, ejaculative (ooh Missus) and imperative forms. I would go so far as to say that Britain is the rudest place on Earth now. I know I sound like Colonel Mustard (in the library with the lead piping) when I note that the presence of women or children introduces no restraint now. Yet as a young man I worked on building sites with men who swore like troopers, but would never dream of doing so in the presence of a woman or child.

Nor do I think Stanley Matthews or even Dixie Dean would describe modern Britain as the home of fair play. Not only do we indulge in the professional foul but - worse - the professional dive. One wonders if RADA is involved in the FA's youth training programme these days. It is a 3D form of slander or when televised, libel but it raises no eyebrows. Since I have been following my local football team I have noticed that the fans point these actions out to the ref without any sense of moral indignation. They simply want the free kick. Indeed they speak admiringly of a well-executed cheat by their own players. Only their naivity in believing the ref is listening to the crowd marks them as incompletely cynical. If I express my mother's (and my) view that you haven't won if you cheated, I am accused of membership of Baden Powell's paramilitiary organisation or looked at as if I am simple.

Honesty, to be honest, was never our strongest suit. Politeness rather inhibited frankness and always confused the hell out of speakers of English as a Second Language. Our business people have a global reputation for dishonesty perhaps originally because they were "too polite" to raise difficult issues (such as money) until it was both unavoidable and (from most other peoples' point of view) too late. When working abroad I much preferred German to British clients. Germans would argue about my fee for weeks before instructing me, but then paid promptly on presentation of the bill. Brits would wave their hands reassuringly if I tried to discuss remuneration, but then act (RADA again?) startled when the bill arrived. They were polite, but they more often defaulted. I don't call that honest. I don't call it decent. I see no nexus with fair play. Nor do most of our foreign business partners.

I like to think I lived my business life by the ethical standards I learned at my mother's knee. Yet it took me years to understand as a compliment (rather than to be hurt by) the common remark from foreign friends and clients that I was "not very British." At first I thought they nourished a Hugh Grant stereotype of Britishness and were referencing my unfloppy hair, humble background and flat vowels. In fact, they meant I was open and honest. My British colleagues, on the other hand, were more minded to see me as "difficult".

Lying is in fact the most common activity in Britain today. In my experience, no-one returns a phone call as promised. "I will call you back" seems to be the merest verbal tic, rather like "How are you?" No-one actually expects anything to follow from either remark. The last time my bank told me they would call back I replied "I am sorry, but based on recent experience I have to assume that's a lie. I will hold until you have the information if you don't mind." The bank employee's indigation seemed to suggest RADA is involved in HSBC's training programme too.

Nor is this limited to large organisations with call centres. Everyone has to be chased and no-one is embarrassed by it. I found myself smiling approvingly when an insurance broker replied to a chasing email by saying "I am sorry you have to keep chasing me". Not sorry enough to call or email when promised, however. Today was the second Friday when I had arranged to be available for a telephone discussion with my health insurer. I am less surprised that the call never came than their representative was last week when I raised his failure to keep a promise with him. He seemed to think it rude of me, though I did it very politely.

There is much current indignation in the blogs about some LibDem Lord propositioning women. I have little time for a political party whose very name is a double lie, but as there is no suggestion that he ever failed to take "no" for an answer, the fuss seems entirely fake to me. I wonder how the poor chap was ever supposed to have consensual sex without asking a woman if she would like some? This reasonable point is being made by LibDems, but denounced as "sexist" by most political bloggers (with honourable exceptions). Next week, it will be some randy Tory or Labourite and the same things will be said from different directions. The truth is not relative, and certainly not relative to political orientation. Therefore all these utterances are lies. Perhaps there is a story here. Wake me up when it emerges. Until then, this is all just playground yah-boo and I can't be bothered.

It seems to be that, from empirical observation in the year and a half since I returned to these isles, the key "British values" are dishonesty and sloppyness. Consider Helen Szamuely's critique of art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, for example. If what she says is true, the man is not so much expressing opinions as throwing labels about. But isn't that what our public dialogue is now like?

Not one system in my new-build home worked first time. It makes no economic sense to me as the builder's profits must have been consumed in after-sales service. If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well - so that you don't have to keep coming back to do it again, as it were. It brought to mind Gardner's famous remark that 

The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because philosophy is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water. 

Where, pray, does that leave a society that has scorned excellence altogether?

Consider the Conservative suspended from the candidate's list for making, in a passing re-tweet, the obvious point that the Nazis were Socialists. The clue's in the name guys (and in their rampant statist conduct and rather forceful central planning when in power). She has been returned to the list, presumably having promised never to be rude to a Socialist again, but what does it tell us? Socialists (many of whom were pretty big on eugenics before Hitler brought the idea into disrepute) have been distancing themselves frantically from the Nazis ever since the war. They have ruthlessly smeared by association all of us on the Right by calling fascists "extreme right" or "far right" when they are clearly far closer to them, both politically and in authoritarian temperament, than to us. Yet they are all a-quiver with indignation if somebody calls them out for their ruthless, relentless and decades-long lie. So much for honesty.

And as for tolerance, let me spare the Left for once (as they are far too easy a target on this subject). Rather consider this story. Imagine! A politician doesn't like a newspaper's readers so he refuses to talk to its journalists.

While living abroad, I watched all this develop in our political life and felt sorry for my fellow-citizens. I imagined them labouring under the yoke of political correctness; desperate to speak the truth in their yeoman minds to power. It seems I was wrong. Britain's politicians do, after all, represent British values fairly. It's the values that stink.


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Tom, well lots of people were born in the area where the East End were moved out to, "Estuary" is influenced by that and the area has economic power, so people who live there may fit in.

I have issues with the new weird (chavy?) accent seems to have appeared. It sounds "foreign" to me. Is that what you mean by Estuary, cos it's not what I mean.

James, Like women are trying to destroy (presumably only boys) gumption in some weird war of the sexes?

No it is politics and teachers who should never have been teachers, who I accept may well be mostly socialists. Ones who have been taught selected left wing thinkers educational theories.

Teachers who don't expect anything of most kids, especially ones they see as working class. No that is not quite right, they do absolutely expect _something_ - low attainment.

One especial problem for boys, as I see it, is having so few male role models in teaching who expect them to work hard.

And that those who are there are not allowed to even lock some knife wealding kid in a room, for everyone's protection, without getting suspended by some useless big bucks fool working for local government.

And one reason there are so few guys in teaching I am told is, because they wont take the hastle of the stupid rules and don't want to be accused of being a paedophile. OK two reasons...

I guess politically motivated PC ism driven to a crazy logical conclusion.


You and Moggsy are right about the teaching profession and its contribution to deteriorating educational and social standards. The late Mrs P. decided she didn't want to be a teacher anymore when she was instructed by her employer to pick from a selection of more or less positive comments when writing reports on her pupils. If children are consistently praised for poor or mediocre performance and/or behaviour, they are more likely to continue to be sloppy and/or unethical for the rest of their lives.

Setting and expecting adherence to the highest standard of which a child is capable is not cruel but kind. A sense of entitlement, based on undeserved self-esteem is the root of much that is bad in modern Britain.


A bit of fitting in is normal, just as we unconsciously model people's posture when in meetings with them. We are social beings after all. I am told I don't now have the full on Northern accent I still hear in my head when I speak - though it comes back a bit when I visit my parents. But the Estuary Englishers are not picking up a local accent, they are masking their own from shame. The question is, if we are striving for a classless society (while, it seems, only achieving a society without any class) why be ashamed of - in effect - your parents? Why not celebrate diversity in this respect too?


"...(but I don't live with them)..."

That's news. Where are you from, valued contributor of mine?

james higham

ou talk about a society that has scorned excellence, well from what I have seen and heard I figure it has been built into the education system in the UK at a fundamental level where teachers low expectation comes true so often, especially with boys.

Yes, Moggsy's referring to socialists and feminists of course teaching kids all this PC claptrap and not what should be inculcated.

Almost everyone spoke with that fake "Estuary English" accent that is now de rigeur.

It's appalling, innit?


I like our local hairdressers. They are polite, friendly, they take your coat and make sure you have a real coffee they chat to you and remember things you discussed before. I think you might have a point, they are rather... well American, arn't they. Our local butchers have the same sort of attitude, but no coffee. I am sure they would only sell me horse or halal if I asked for it.

You are right. it was Nationalist socialism, dare I say both words that might apply to Mr Salmond.Oops! I guess I blew my chances as a "Conservative" (how does that name fit?) candidate.

I think you also do have a point about the lord with the wandering hands, or maybe at least about wandering hands in general. But the situation makes a difference. A girl auditioning can be fogiven for wondering if she does not like it or not let his hands wander what chance she has at the part don't you think?

So he might be thinking he is not pressuring and she might be thinking "absoluterly he isn't pressuring - NOT!"

You talk about a society that has scorned excellence, well from what I have seen and heard I figure it has been built into the education system in the UK at a fundamental level where teachers low expectation comes true so often, especially with boys.

Mark makes some good points also.

As for accents, I admit mine probably is a real mixture now, but it slips to fit where I am and even who I am with real quick. When I have had a few drinks it seems to revert a bit, but it's not like I am "putting on" any accent. Maybe it is unconciously fitting in?


Listening to the people around me on my Sunday walk today reminded me of another endemic British untruth. Almost everyone spoke with that fake "Estuary English" accent that is now de rigeur. I first challenged it in someone who had migrated to business from academia more than 20 years ago after I learned by chance that she had been to a Swiss finishing school. She confessed she had modified her pronunciation to "fit in" at her University.

Even HM the Queen, it seems, has succumbed to the pressure.

I think it's fine that people keep their regional accents and think no worse of them for it as long as they are comprehensible. But I think no better of them either. It's just an environmental accident that reflects no credit either way. So why should people with certain "posh" accents now feel they have to change their voices in order to be accepted? That they give in is, I think, as cowardly as it's dishonest.


I would quibble about the relative importance of plumbing and philosophy but that is not Tom's quote.

The rest of the post is a clinical dissection of modern British "values" that many (even ex-pats who rarely interact with British business) can relate to. Now that industrial output is in terminal decline, the relative importance of banking, insurance and related legal enterprises that rely very much on fair-dealing, honesty and integrity is paramount. Yet if people are not even returning phone calls how can British commerce survive? I have been predicting for some time that Singapore or Shanghai will soon expand their capabilities and London as a financial centre will whither. Nothing Tom reports makes me want to change that prediction.


It is an error of modern times to presume that politics is a conflict between those advocate smaller or larger states. Nazism believed in the state but largely as a means of upholding anti-egalitarian and anti-enlightenment ideals that defy all those of progressivism: national homogeneity, ethnocentrism, imperialism...

The response of conservatives or libertarians to the charge of association with Nazis should be that no one is equivalent to them, not "I know you are, what am I?"

Socialists did support eugenics, by the way, but almost everyone who was not a member of the Catholic Church thought similarly. The Prime Minister who led our nation to victory over Hitler was a keen enthusiast for the promotion of good breeding and the isolation of the "feeble-minded".


The Nazis were right wing, not left. Well they were right of the communists. The party was formed from two groups, one extreme right wing and anti-communist. The use of the word socialist in the name is only a cover and Hitler redefined the meaning of it as it was used by the Nazis. How they are like the socialists of today is that they are both fascists and statists and authoritarians to the bone.


I think that (as suggested in Kate Fox's "watching the English"), the English are basically socially ill-at-ease and therefore reserved rather than polite - hence the lying. So, yes, it is definitely a misconception that the English tend to be more polite than other nationalities.
For example, Americans have no problem using the word "sir" without sarcasm, standing up to address you, etc. etc.
Though of course, while being reserved is not in and of itself polite (where politeness is making others feel at ease), when living in a country of socially inept people it is necessary to be reserved to be polite. Which is where Americans in the UK come a cropper.
Also, the English try to overcompensate using drink and can become absolutely unbearable. Not sure what the Scottish or Welsh's excuse is.
And I must take strong issue with the view that the Germans are preferable to the English. Germans are essentially business-like, English people are not. But unless you view the ability to conduct business as the ultimate virtue this need not be a fatal failing on our part. Personally, I've found Germans to be deperately lacking... lacking... anything serious to get worried about. They are the worlds most serious nation, but it is like the whole Nazi experience has put a psycological block on them even attempting anything romantic/attractive.

And, I would say that in the UK, there has probably been a decline in deference in recent years - likewise gender equality is a double edged sword. But, you know what, I have lived outside the UK for 3/4 of my adult life, and when I visit, I find the majority of English people to be perfectly charming.

Though, having said that, a few years ago I was attacked in the street after wishing a stranger a "happy new year".
But then again, last year when my mother was jostled by a teenager at a train station, not only did the station ticket man rush across to give the teenager a dressing-down, but the teenager also sincerely apologised.
But then, a strange man started shouting and swearing on the train.
But everyone else was polite and calm when he demanded a pen.
Lloyds bank call centre staff terrible.
The local barmaid lovely.
At the end of the day, there is good and bad - we're not perfect - English culture probably isn't inherently superior to other countries (though of course people who have never travelled think it is - that's the same everywhere), but as an Englishman, the English will always be my family.
And I love them.
(but I don't live with them)


I like the English.


All too true, sadly, and well said. But can I challenge you to link the decline, in part, to the rise in aggressive secularism, as I believe it to be?


I always read your articles and jolly good they are to but this one is exceptionally good.


"...when I note that the presence of women or children introduces no restraint now. Yet as a young man I worked on building sites with men who swore like troopers, but would never dream of doing so in the presence of a woman or child."

Maybe that'd be because, these days, the woman or child themselves adopt the same language?

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