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Promoting British values, like democracy, to toddlers

The Government “is clear that it is not appropriate for public money for early education to go to providers which do not promote fundamental British values”. Those values include “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs” (1).

Others have described more elegantly than I could why this idea is problematic in so many ways (2).  But it was the idea of ‘democracy’ as a British value that made me ponder, based on some recent experiences, just how highly regarded it really is in this country.

I suspect that, like queuing, it’s something we endorse when it suits.  When I was commuting, people were ever so polite, letting others go in front of them, when there plenty of seats.  When it was crowded, it was a scrum with every man (and the occasional woman) for themselves.

I have noticed the lack of commitment to democracy in the last year or so in my experience of various new third sector bodies being set up and others changing their form, to become Charitable Incorporated Organisations (CIOs).  For CIOs (as with companies) you can have members who vote for the trustees, or the trustees can be one and the same.  When researching options for a charity I’m involved with, I struggled, to start with, as to which route to take.  It would certainly be simpler if there were no members other than the trustees.  The more I thought about it though, the more obvious it became that we trustees should be accountable to the local community in some way.  We shouldn’t just be a self-perpetuating oligarchy.  My colleagues initially didn’t agree.  I got to feeling so strongly about it that it would have been a resigning matter if they had gone the other way.  Fortunately, they didn’t feel so strongly, but I sensed that this was not because of any strong commitment to the values of democracy.  To my surprise, another significant local voluntary body did go down the ‘non-democratic’ route.

Another body I’m involved with took the alternative route, with the only voting members being the three Directors who are also employees.  There’s no accountability at all, yet this is supposed to be a body promoting community involvement.  When I discovered this, I expected others to be as outraged as me, but no-one seemed to think it that important.  I thought it would be different in other areas, but when I’ve asked people, there’s generally a similar lack of democracy elsewhere.  And no-one seems to care.

So maybe promoting democracy to toddlers isn’t such a bad idea.  I think they could probably cope.  After all, I’m sure they could cope with the values inherent in some current issues of international concern – “why did you hurt that child?  No, I’m afraid it’s not good enough just to say ‘they started it’.”  Once they’d been told how important democracy was, perhaps we’d get toddlers asking their parents, ‘when you go to work, do you vote for who’s in charge?’  And the slightly more advanced ones might ask, ‘how do we vote for the Queen?’  And while they might find it hard to fully understand the institutional arrangements of parliament, I think they’d struggle even more to understand why in a supposed democracy the House of Lords isn’t elected.

Actually, maybe it isn’t pre-schoolers to whom democracy needs promoting.

(1), p.17

(2)  e.g.

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