Political Economy for Everyman

Political Economy for Everyman – On the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ of 10 June 2014 Nick Clegg was unable to answer a direct question from the presenter. That question was “What are British Values”!

It is because people like Nick Clegg are unable to answer this question in public that immigrant communities are can appear unaware of the values to which they must aspire if they are to be welcome and productive citizens in England? Nick Clegg’s ignorance, or his fear of upsetting people, are yet one more disgraceful example of how the Westminster elites have let down everybody in the UK over the last 20 – 30 years.

This is not just a moral failure on his part, it also calls into question his ability to fill the post of deputy-prime minister. After all have not his coalition partners called for the compulsory teaching of British Values  in all schools? If he does not know what they are he can only play an obstructive role in their selection.
The Diva Politica

So what are these values? The UK is a union of four nations; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So its values should be the values of each of these nations.

This is of course NOT important since Cameron, Gove and Clegg can only direct what happens in English schools. What happens elsewhere is up to the respective devolved parliaments/assemblies.

Note that a nation’s values are not the same as a nation’s  culture but are a part of it and along with the legal/governance systems and its language are the major creators of the culture. So the culture’s of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all different.

This begs the questions of what is British culture? Is it a combination of all four or is it a selection from each of the four? Unfortunately for the Westminster elites the first is too unwieldy and unmanageable to be workable while the latter would not be acceptable to any of the four nations.

I’m English not Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland so I will leave it to them to describe their values for their own education systems. Instead I will describe English values, the values that we should be teaching in England’s schools.

In a previous blog I attempted to describe why it was so difficult to give a neat, simple description of Englishness and explains why we the English are a tolerant nation and the conditions under which that exists. This blog seeks to expand that discussion.

England’s great gift to the world is representative democracy. It is what, in a previous blog, I have called “The Golden Chain, Democracy’s DNA, England’s Gift” . J R Maddicott’s “Origins of the English Parliament 924 – 1327″ is the standard work on the early history. The early Saxon proto-parliaments that he, based on documentary evidence, describes were not in fact the first. Fragmentary written evidence describes similar meetings as early as 620 AD – nearly 1,400 years ago. As such they predate the meetings in the Isle of Man and Iceland by centuries.

As they say, the lack of evidence is not evidence of lack. So we cannot assume that these councils were not a feature of the early Anglo-Saxon period just because there are few written records.

These meetings or Councils were based on an enduring set of values;

  • The king had to consult his  people before making decisions on law and the running of the realm.
  • The bishops, nobles and local theigns (Knights in the Norman terminology) he called to these councils were accepted by all the people as representing them
  • Decisions were made by consensus amongst all those present and not by a majority vote.
  • All, including the king, were subject to these laws “of the Land” a situation unique amongst nation states in those times (England became a nation state in 927 AD when King Athelstan was accepted as the King of All England).

The council meetings were not there to rubber-stamp the decisions of the king. They could and did refuse a king’s request. They had a judicial function, to which the even the king had to submit, no law could be effected without their consent, they could choose between rival claimants to the throne and they could require the new king to sign up to the laws the council wanted. This signing was required of  Ethelred, Canute and Edward the Confessor.

The reason for this was that the Anglo-Saxons had a great respect for the what they called, and we still call, “The Law of the Land”. Note that this was not the law of the king as it was in Europe but was initially the customary law of the people, which later became “The Common Law of England”. “Common” because everybody was judged under it.

We are used to witless Westminster politicians “pulling on levers” that they proclaim will “get things done” but who do not understand that these levers were not connected to anything so leading to yet another shambolic turn of events.

The Anglo-Saxons did things differently. Once a Council had made a decision this would be written up and copies sent to all the shire courts who had the duty to ensure it was followed in the shire. A shire was the “county” of Anlgo-Saxon England.The shire courts themselves had great power, even after the conquest. In 1297 the shire court of Worcester refused to collect a tax because the conditions under which a previous tax had been granted to the king by the “parlement” were not followed by the king.

The shire court was chaired by the eorl of the shire, the bishop of the shire or occasionally by the king’s reeve (sheriff). Each shire had a number of “hundreds”. The Shire court would send the laws to be followed to the hundred court which was the equivalent of today’s district council and was the main court for criminal matters and also judged civil disputes and local governance.

So English values include a particular form of tolerance; a respect for the customs of the past and the law of the land made on behalf of the people by their representatives and by the judges in local courts; a respect for that law and a willingness to abide by the decisions of the courts that were there to protect their rights. But that was not all

Daniel Hannan in his book “How We Invented Freedom & Why It Matters” records that the Anglo-Saxon law on property gave the owner the right to do with that property what they wished. The could sell it, they could leave it in their will to a child, Great Aunt Mary or the local cat shelter.

The Anglo-Saxons and his Norman successors were confident in their tenure of land, safe in the knowledge that no king or noble could either take it away from him by force or tell him what to do with it. This could only happen because the Anglo-Saxons were used to making contract freely and deciding disputes about them in the courts.

This was not so in Europe and to this day some states in Europe can still tell you what you can do with your land. Because of this Europe suffers, for example, from many farms that are too small to be economically viable (and thereby need subsidies) because the law stated that each child must get a portion of the father’s land which was subdivided again and again by each generation .

Anglo-Saxon England did not have church law. That was brought in by William the Conqueror who got the Pope’s blessing for his invasion by swearing to implement church law in England if he won.

The Anglo-Saxons treated everyone the same since all were equal under the law, the same law. Nobles did not get the right to hold their own courts and levy their own justice, no matter how arbitrary it was, as they did in Europe.

Nobles had to pay the same tax as as the villein or freeman, unlike Europe where they were frequently given freedom from tax payments. Because of this Anglo-Saxon England whilst being hierarchical was peopled by those who guarded their liberties jealously, had a sense of unity and even a sense of responsibility for each other.

William the Conqueror considered the law of England so perfect that he made it the law of his realm. The Domesday Book, for example, was not done by command of the king but took William two council meetings over a period of months  (they were not yet called parliaments) to get the agreement of the prelates and nobles in 1085. The Norman and Angevin kings that followed persisted in trying to make arbitrary taxation and confiscation of property the norm but the English fought back using the law and eventually triumphed 149 years after the conquest with the signing by King John I of the Magna Carta.

So to sum up here are the English values, the values that were fought for over the centuries and that ended up embedding representative, cabinet, government in Britain today but which also traveled around the world giving people freedom and democracy wherever they took root:

  • The Law of the Land stands above all other laws.
  • all are subject to this law including the ruler.
  • all are equal before this law.
  • The Laws and taxation may only be introduced or amended by our representatives meeting together.
  • The Law of the Land, our Common Law, says what we may not do, but all else is allowed. When something new arises we do not rush to regulate or control it, as they do in Europe.
  • Since this will allow quite large differences in customs with the ever present risk of conflict it is up to all to show tolerance to others who use the English language to describe their ways  in carefully selected non-threatening terms and who agree with and comply with the Law of the Land and the values of England.
  • Individuals have the right to own property and have the right to give or sell it to whom they please.
  • Freedom to make contracts with others that would be subject to the law and not arbitrary confiscation.

Those then are the English values that allowed England to prosper, despite all that happened in the period from around 500 AD to 1707 AD when the Act of Union was passed. These principles now underpin democratic states such as the United Kingdom, Canada, USA, Australia and so on. Those of us who are fortunate, live in nations using these values to govern themselves.

So Mr Clegg British values are actually English values and some of these values are not the same as European values and that perhaps is why you chose not to discus them on the radio!

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