British traditions such as Christmas are “at risk”, according to Dame Louise Casey, the Government’s “integration tsar”. That’s the person who’s supposed to make us all get along better together (though whether the autocratic title of “tsar” is the right word here must be questionable).
Dame Louise, who has done splendid care work in housing with Shelter and with support for troubled families, has claimed that too much political correctness might easily erase Christmas and other similar traditions from our national life.
Actually, we have been exercised by this matter before. Twenty years ago, Birmingham City Council sought to get the word Christmas altered to “Winterval”, reportedly so as not to “offend” Muslims, people from other faiths or non-believers.
It never caught on. “Christmas” is too big a brand to fail. Even at this very moment, the elves and pixies of commercialism are busily laying their plans for the Christmas purchasing season.
In fact, it could be said that consumerism has done more damage to Christian traditions than any amount of political correctness. Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, though no doubt harmless by intent, has a lot to answer for.
Dame Louise is right to say that people in this country should stand firm about British traditions. We should also be unambiguous in affirming that Britain is a Christian country by culture and tradition, and that is part of the national identity.
That doesn’t need to hinder social integration, either. After all, look at France, where laïcité – secularism – is insisted upon to such a degree that the Christmas crib is forbidden in any town square.
And yet, despite the absence of Christmas emblems in the public realm, France’s five million Muslims are often said to be deeply alienated from the mainstream culture.
Why is Theresa May such a class warrior? Her first speech on entering 10 Downing Street was about the need for a more socially just Britain, and now she seems resolved to revive grammar schools to enable social mobility, as well as more educational opportunity.
The new short biography of May by the journalist Virginia Blackburn, Theresa May: The Downing Street Revolution, underlines two sources for Mrs May’s social attitudes.
One we knew already, which is her being a vicar’s daughter with a strong sense of social responsibility towards the less fortunate. The second influence is that of her grandmothers, both of whom worked in domestic service. Her paternal grandmother Amy – mother of Hubert Brasier, the Cof E vicar who became Theresa’s dad – was a parlourmaid in a big house in Notting Hill Gate, the very location where the David Cameron and George Osborne set later frolicked. Theresa’s maternal grandmother, Violet (Welland), was in service as a nursery nurse.
Both maternal and paternal families were committed Christians, and the values have been duly transmitted to Theresa. Interestingly, though, it’s a case of faith being “caught, not taught”. Mrs May has said that she never felt in any way pressurised into a Christian commitment. She just picked it up.
What the family history also demonstrates is a marked pattern of social mobility. All four of Theresa’s grandparents came from relatively humble stock, but throughout the 20th century the family consistently improved their lot. Aside from Mrs May being PM, three other grandchildren of parlourmaid Amy flourished as distinguished professors.
I’m surrounded by women friends who have been transfixed by the saga of Helen, in Radio 4’s The Archers, being had up in court for taking a weapon to her abusive husband, Rob. Five million listeners have been utterly absorbed with this storyline, which came to a climax on Sunday night last.
I didn’t share the obsession. I felt that I was being manipulated by the scriptwriters. And I resist the implication that emotional domestic abuse is necessarily always perpetuated by men against women. I have been a living witness to a situation where a wife controlled a husband with iron domination, and he was reduced to lap dog status.
What the immense success of The Archers drama has shown is that nothing is more compelling, in the realm of ideas, than a story. As we know from the Gospels.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.