Much as it goes against the grain to say that a politician is correct, PM David Cameron does have a point when he says this country should be “far more muscular” in promoting its values and institutions.
Anyone who has travelled widely will know that in many countries you adhere to social norms or face a muscular response, whether it’s covering up in Muslim lands or going easy on the cussing (and not complaining about dry taverns) in the US Bible belt.
Similarly, people coming over here should adhere to our values – even if it does involve getting blind drunk and spewing up on the pavement before starting a fight and showing why the French call us Les F~~~ Offs.
Because while we agree with Mr Cameron that newcomers to this country should adopt our customs, it’s a bit harder to say what those customs should be, though clearly cynicism must be high up on the list.
Banning the burka is one people often call for — but what then happens to all those hoodie-wearing disaffected middle class youths on the front line of Mossley or Sandbach Heath, who suddenly find themselves kettled by the anti-terrorist squad?
Being positive (itself a bit un-British), and leaving cynicism aside, one leading British trait is a lack of faith in our leaders.
While we do have the occasional great leader who people look up to — most recently the Duke of Wellington — most of the time we think our leaders are idiots and we could do better.
This sadly extends to many other authority figures: we’d bet teachers are more widely respected by their students’ families in other parts of Europe (or in the Muslim world) than over here. While the latter is not good, a healthy and polite disrespect for authority is something we admire.
Our patriotism is of the kind that starts family fights: we moan about the country all the time, at least until a foreigner has a go; then we get defensive, rather like the way families who hate each other will unite against a common enemy.
But our patriotism is nothing like America, say: play the Star Spangled Banner at a public event over there and many people will stand up. Play the national anthem over here and most people will shuffle about awkwardly until it stops.
This lack of respect for authority has a positive side: English people on the whole are tolerant, mainly because to be intolerant is almost like taking a lead, and we don’t much like leaders.
We’re also fair-minded and polite, and like to back the underdog. (Admittedly it’s been argued that our politeness is merely a mask for the centuries of inbred aggression bubbling away under the surface).
Make even the simplest comment on football and you’ll be readily accepted into most male company.
So there’s some ideas for Mr Cameron — fairness, tolerance, the questioning of authority and the rules of football. He’s also in favour of democracy (as long as it’s first past the post, of course), so the list is shaping up nicely.
In another area, Mr Cameron sadly seems a little confused in his thinking.
The other week he was saying we were a Christian country and should not be ashamed to live by Christian ethics and culture.
He only made that comment because England is less Christian than it was — so if he wants to teach Britishness he should surely be teaching values removed from religion?
Evolution has been mentioned (at one Birmingham school, teachers allegedly told pupils they didn’t believe in it) but a fair few Christians don’t believe in it, either, so what sort of Christianity does he favour?
Christian commentators often complain about a national decline in morals but that surely reflects a rise in behaviour that could be called British? It’s all very confusing for a politician looking for soundbites.
We’d suggest to Mr C that he quietly abandons his pro- Christian stance (even though we agreed with it at the time). Safer routes would be Humanism (emphasise the value of humans) or Buddhism (no God, and all about respect).
So there you go, Prime Minster: instil Britishness by teaching Buddhism, democracy and association football. And adopt the practice of throwing shoes at Prime Ministers, as a goodwill gesture to migrants who favour that sort of thing.