Michael Gove Previously Said It Was “Un-British” To Define Britishness

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Michael Gove, the education secretary who yesterday announced that “British values” will be actively promoted in all schools, has previously branded attempts to define Britishness as “rather unBritish”.

“Rather like trying to define leadership, it’s a quality which is best appreciated when demonstrated through action rather than described in the abstract,” he wrote in a piece for upmarket politics magazine Prospect.

Regardless, Gove pressed on and defined Britishness as “an identity shaped by an understanding of the common law, refined by the struggle between the people’s representatives and arbitrary power, rooted in a presumption in favour of individual freedom, enriched by a love of the quirky, local and unique, buttressed by anger at injustice, constantly open to the world and engaged with suffering of others, sustained through adversity by subversive humour and better understood through literature than any other art.”

Gove yesterday declared that all schools in the UK will be required to actively promote “British values” in the classroom from this September onwards.

The government has defined “fundamental British values” as including “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”. The values will be based on existing standards for independent schools and the Department for Education will now rush to consult on a way of enforcing this through school inspector Oftsted before pupils return in the autumn.

Dominic Cummings, Gove’s close former adviser, said he had doubts about whether it would be unforceable, warning the European Court Court of Human Rights could strike it down. “Either won’t happen or be crap”, he declared, saying the decision to allow Ofsted to inspect schools without advance warning was much more important.

3. This is what Michael Gove wrote on Britishness in 2007:


There is something rather unBritish about seeking to define Britishness. Rather like trying to define leadership, it’s a quality which is best appreciated when demonstrated through action rather than described in the abstract.

As a Scot who, like Brown, has made his career in London and whose family are now rooted in England, I feel immensely fortunate to be a citizen of a cosmopolitan state where nationality is defined not by ethnicity but sustained by the subtle interweaving of traditions and given life by a spirit of liberty.

Britishness is best understood as an identity shaped by an understanding of the common law, refined by the struggle between the people’s representatives and arbitrary power, rooted in a presumption in favour of individual freedom, enriched by a love of the quirky, local and unique, buttressed by anger at injustice, constantly open to the world and engaged with suffering of others, sustained through adversity by subversive humour and better understood through literature than any other art.

But if you really want to understand Britishness you need to ask why the British find Tracey Emin loveable, regard Ealing comedies as sacred, look on the world of Wodehouse as a lost Eden, always vote for the underdog on Big Brother, make the landscape the central character in their Sunday evening dramas, respect doctors more than lawyers and venerate their army but have never had a soldier as leader since the Duke of Wellington.

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