Leading Article: Britain's changing virtues and vices

Share
Related Topics
THE PRIME Minister has given us another glimpse of his view of quintessential Britain. Last April it involved long shadows on county cricket grounds, warm beer and Shakespeare still read in every school. On Sunday, he told James Naughtie on Radio 4 about 'certain lasting values that are instinctive to the British. Everyone knows what they are: respect, courtesy, obedience to the law, self-discipline, no-nonsense decisions between right and wrong.'

Over the past 20 or 30 years these had, he reckoned, been pushed aside, taken for granted, neglected, and needed to be placed 'smack in the middle of our public life again'. His interviewer respectfully allowed this catalogue to go unchallenged. But his comments must have suggested to many listeners that the Prime Minister lives in an unreal world, to which each day must bring cruel discoveries.

Take, for example, that basic British instinct for obedience to the law. It was variously pushed aside, taken for granted or neglected by the hundreds of thousands who, in the year to June 1993, committed an estimated 15 million crimes in England and Wales, of which a record 5.7 million offences were actually reported. Plenty of no-nonsense decisions there between right and wrong - all, alas, in favour of wrong. Yet according to Mr Major, these values are 'known to everyone in the country, and understood by them'.

They include, naturally, the fine old instinct for self-discipline, so prominently in evidence when lager-soaked English football fans run amok in some hapless European capital, or drunken holiday- makers throw up all over the Costa del Sol.

The point need not be belaboured. Mr Major seeks to strike a chord when he evokes British virtues associated with earlier eras. But in doing so he not only sounds insular, nostalgic and out of touch, but also makes Britain seem a much less interesting country than it has become.

In reality, its virtues are no more immutable than its vices. Thanks in part to latter-day Conservative radicalism and mould-breaking, Britain's strengths include an unexpected degree of adaptability to new labour practices and technologies; and a sharp decline in deference and respect has played an important part in the social revolution of the past decade.

Mr Major should update his list. It not only strains credulity, but also undersells modern Britain.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past