What makes us British?

It’s a fair question, and one often asked.

Certainly there’s a whole debate going on North of the Border as to what that means.

To be fair, we are not alone by any means asking questions regarding national character. I doubt there is a peoples in any nation on the planet where opinions on what constitute their way of life, their soul, their essence of being does not rise to the surface regularly. The French, the Americans, the Chinese: no one people speaks with one voice, with the exception perhaps of North Korea where, sadly, it is with the voice that one man dictates.

Here at home the question of what makes us British has Southampton Itchen MP John Denham vexed. To be accurate, Mr Denham is not saying what makes us British, but asking the very sensible question of who decides such matters.

Certainly, he would contend, it is not the job of the Minister of State for Education Michael Gove, who has prescribed that schools should give lessons based on British values.

For the majority of folk, certainly no doubt the majority of UKIP supporters, that sounds sensible.

And I have the opinion that Mr Denham isn’t actually against promoting a heap of the values that most of us would associate with our nation: fair play, rule of law, equality, support for the weak.

Away from those planks, however, the values we hold dear become less easy to define and subject to interpretation: decency, modesty, stoicism, tolerance.

And it is the latter of those variables, tolerance, that throws up the biggest challenge. If we strive to be a tolerant people, then it is how we apply that attribute to those we don’t agree with and, more importantly, those who are intolerant.

These are not challenges peculiar to the British, of course. Most advanced nations have come to the same set of values within a fairly narrow range of variants to enable their complex societies to rub along together. A wish for justice and fair play, for our voice to be heard, and for the strong to protect the weak is ingrained in us as human beings. We may backslide from time to time and let dictators and those with a vested interest in getting the upper hand take control, but we tend to wrest it back sooner or later to those core values.

It is how we promote those values and what name we give them that lies at the heart then of the present debate of what we teach our children. Whether we call them British values or human values to me doesn’t matter. They are the values by which we should live our lives and expect those around us to respect and adhere to also.