Comment: Eric Pickles’ treacherous attack on British values

The Conservatives' newfound obsession with 'traditional Christian values' is a betrayal of British society.

By Ian Dunt

There's nothing less traditionally British than a traditional Brit. Anyone who even uses the phrase – myself excluded, of course, and only for the duration of this piece – is making a mockery of our national qualities.

The great traditional British value is this: Do what you like as long as you don't stop what I'm doing. It is the value of John Stuart Mill, of Winston Churchill, of Joe Strummer. Those who demand a Christian country of Christian values are traitors to British culture.

Eric Pickles is one of them. He wants everyone to be the same: Christian, speaking English, praying to the same God. His community cohesion agenda, tellingly briefed to the Express and the Mail today, demands the rights of English-speaking Christians take precedence over all other groups.

It follows David Cameron's insistence on the role of religion in British society and Sayeeda Warsi's attack on 'militant secularism' last week. Just this weekend, Pickles said he would use legislation to undo a court order preventing prayers in Bideford town council meetings.

This is becoming pernicious. It is an attempt to undo the last 50 years of British history, to pretend this country is an episode of the Midsomer Murders. It is parochial, simple-minded and intellectually barren.

Pickles is twisting laws to defeat judges, Warsi is making humiliating trips to the Vatican to play footsy with a man who sacrificed Catholic children to paedophilia, the Conservatives are behaving as if it's their intention to pretend the UK's variety can be painted in the pale water colours of a Hampshire village. The Liberal Democrats – a far more secular party – are doing nothing to stop them.

We are currently listening to some of the most backwards, reactionary rhetoric to emerge from government ministers since John Major's 'back to basics' speech, which took the village aspects of George Orwell's vision of England and redacted its industrial elements.

I truly hope none of these ministers are having affairs, because if we catch them we're now entitled to come down like a ton of bricks. You can't espouse Christian values and then demand privacy. In my experience, puritans and traditionalists are more likely than most to stray from the marital bed.

The most appalling aspect of this initiative is the reference to traditional Britain, as if there is some great groundswell of hard-done by Christian zealots waiting to hear Pickles' bloated battle cry. The truth is precisely the opposition. Britain's historic quality is its association with individual freedom, not group-think.

In France, 'militant secularism' actually exists. The banning of the Muslim veil in public was an act of tyranny British political culture finds barely conscionable. Mainland Europe is generally too communitarian, too obsessed with the group rather the individual, to properly execute multiculturalism. The United States, founded by our own puritans (good riddance) has always been too religious and patriotic for multiculturalism, even if it rhetorically parrots British individualist ideals.

It is the UK which has the unique political traditions to show how multiculturalism necessarily follows from liberal ideals of individual autonomy. An Englishman's home is his castle and you are more than welcome to wear a hijab in it – or outside.

Cultural multiculturalism is merely an extension of social multiculturalism. Some people want to go to those achingly fashionable restaurants where they serve you half an orange with cumin seeds for £30. Some people want to play violent video games all day. Some people want to go to Stamford Bridge, some people want to go to transsexual Burlesque nights.

Some people want to pray to Allah while facing east, some people want to watch those dreadful channels with American evangelists saying homosexual sex creates earthquakes. That's what multiculturalism is. Freedom for all to do whatever they like, as long as they don't stop us doing what we want.

Individual freedom means group freedoms must be curtailed. That goes for sharia law, but it also goes for prayers before council meetings. Both reflect the rights of a community to enforce its views on the individuals within it. They are unacceptable.

Secular multiculuralists are not the enemies of religion. We are its defenders. Unless each religion is kept in check, it threatens the others. Muslims and Christians may be feeling awfully chummy at the moment because they consider atheism a greater threat than each other. That won't last forever. We are the nursery school teachers who make sure all the children can play in a safe area and not hurt each other.

The government's use of traditional Christian rhetoric is moving from the irritating to the dangerous. The forces ranged against it seem more interested in belittling each other – primarily through attacks on Richard Dawkins – than they are in taking it on. If the other side is mobilising we should too. Pickles, Warsi and their like are insulting Great Britain.

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