Firstly, in a democracy, the values of a nation are arguably represented by its government and government policies. With various checks and balances hopefully in place to moderate the level of emphasis.

 Democratic politics is fundamentally about a system of values, with some practical compromises in the delivery of government policy. If you don’t vote, then what does that say about your values – is it saying:

  • that what you hold dear has no value, or
  • that no political party in your electorate matches at least some of your values, or
  • that you can’t match up the government policy delivery with the values you support?

Strong governments can be positive in staying the course and delivering what they promise -hopefully effective and positive change. Weak governments are typically inconsistent, immoral or ineffective.

 Perhaps unfairly, a government might also appear ineffective, if :

  • voters blame their government for a global problem impacting their nation (credit crunch shocks, economic & social migration, or economic recovery without proportionate job creation say),
  • the voters expect the government to obtain overwhelming public support on its policies, but aren’t seeing that in practice (many voters may be ambivalent, or uncertain about the exact mix of outcomes they want),
  • it operates in a political coalition, such that many policy actions are compromises and delayed while the dominant party tries to build a coalition consensus.

So are ‘British values’ really a ’chicken and egg’ situation?

Voters hold a set of values and the elected government translates (at least some of) them into action. Meanwhile, the government tries to influence public perception (adopt healthy lifestyles, save for a pension, be tolerant of other’s beliefs, be charitable to those less fortunate, live within your means, develop skills, be law-abiding etc) and thereby instil a strong sense of those values. Then the actual value-set then emerges, somewhere in the middle.

If this is so, perhaps the real challenge to ‘British values’ emerges, when some groups refuse to influence change through the parliamentary system and act directly (protest encampments, civil riots or terrorism). When that happens at a significant level, the top-down approach kicks in.

Values as the ‘Music’

Over the long term of a democratic nation’s history, there may be periods where top-down values dominate (in response to direct challenge from outside the parliamentary system) and more benign periods where voter values dominate.

Either approach could be argued as nothing more than ‘music accompanying the march’ of progress. The important point being that the musical style of the day, doesn’t hold up the forward momentum of the nation to achieve positive change for its population.

Perhaps what is most interesting is that as various nations align on the economic and technical progress they want to experience, the values must also converge. British values become European and Commonwealth values. And Western values align with United Nations values as a proxy for global values.