TEACHING BRITISH VALUES IN SCHOOLS – 25 June 2014

Dr Julian Lewis: Like the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (John Denham), whom I congratulate on giving the Government a chance to think in advance about some of the more complex aspects of what they propose, I am not a particularly religious person; but I come from a Jewish immigrant-family background.

I have two stories to tell, about my late father, Sam. One happened more than 50 years ago when I came home from my junior school and mentioned, without any sense of trauma or discrimination, that we had been asked in class how many of us were English. Several hands went up. Then we were asked how many of us were Welsh, and most hands went up – the school was in Swansea – including mine. At that point, the teacher said, in all innocence:

'Oh, but Julian, I thought you were Jewish.'

When I mentioned that to my father he was outraged. He said,

'What on earth was she talking about? What on earth was she thinking of? Of course you are Welsh. Being Jewish has got nothing to do with it. Our religion has got nothing to do with it.'

I know that that story is true. I can vouch for it, because I remember it. The second story – [Laughter] that must have been funnier even than I intended  – the second story is one that I can remember my father telling me, but I have never yet managed to research it: so I do not know for certain whether it is true and will not name the country from which the community concerned came. My father told me that a large number of people were displaced from Central and Eastern European countries as a result of the War, and they were allowed to settle in various communities around Britain. One of those communities started something that had been known before the War in their country – a degree of anti-Semitic propaganda – in the United Kingdom. My father said, although I have never been able to check or verify it, that when that started the Attlee Government made a firm public pronouncement warning the community that its members were welcome to come to this country and make it their home, but they were not going to bring anti-Semitism with them because the Labour Government of the day would not tolerate it.

I hope that the House can see why I told those stories and where they are leading. As I said earlier, in an intervention on the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen, I have a lot of sympathy with his proposition that it will be very difficult to promote positive values in schools because positive values evolve. However, I think it would be possible to promote what one might call negative values in schools – in other words, to make sure that some things are ruled out as unacceptable. I have a firm belief that in most communities, including the Muslim community, the majority of people are moderates and a small minority are extremists. I believe it is essential that extremism should be kept out of schools. The sort of extremism that provoked the present initiative is on a par with the fascist or Nazi extremism or totalitarianism, and Marxist or communist, extremism or totalitarianism, of the past. It is an Islamist totalitarianism of the present. That must not be allowed to proceed.

We should therefore be careful about what we are trying to do. I hope that the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen will agree with the distinction that I am about to draw: between preventing extremists from taking over schools, and using schools that have not been taken over to prevent, through the promotion of a positive narrative, the radicalising of children. The truth is that nothing that can be done in a state school will insulate young, impressionable children if they are being radicalised outside the school.

Finally, I want to supply the attribution for the Paradox of Tolerance that my right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) alluded to earlier. It will come as no surprise to the massive total of 98 people who, according to the wonderful website 'TheyWorkForYou.com', are assiduous followers of my parliamentary speeches, because I have mentioned many times that the words are those of the late, great conservative-oriented philosopher Sir Karl Popper, who in Volume 1 of The Open Society and Its Enemies laid down the wonderful maxim called the Paradox of Tolerance: that we should tolerate all but the intolerant, because if we tolerate the intolerant the conditions for toleration disappear and the tolerant go with them.