"Let's take our country back": Former British PM Gordon Brown Ahead of Elections

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown calls on Britons to uphold the fundamental British values ​​of freedom, fairness, and global engagement, as the country confronts the divisive challenges of our time

by Sededin Dedovic
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"Let's take our country back": Former British PM Gordon Brown Ahead of Elections
© Leon Neal / Getty Images

As far as I can remember, our country is defined by what we might call three fundamental truths that we consider to be British: first, our commitment to freedom, tolerance, and the rule of law; second, our instinct for fairness; and third, as an island and trading nation, our dedication to engagement with the world.

And while it's hard to see beyond the claims and counterclaims about taxes, spending, and immigration in the heat of an election battle, it is clear to me that there is far more at stake on July 4th than what the daily newspaper headlines say, points out Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2007 to 2010, in an op-ed for the Guardian.

Since, he continues, Nigel Farage's and his supporters' prejudices dominate right-wing thinking and poison the national debate, we must fight for these three defining British values, which I believe he and his companions fail to uphold.

While Farage belatedly disowned the racist views of several Reform UK candidates, he refused to expel Ian Gribbin, who said Britain would have been better off accepting Hitler's offer of neutrality. Gribbin later said, "I apologize for these old comments and unequivocally withdraw them," but his remarks had already been amplified by the party's official response that the "historical perspective of what Britain could have done in the 1930s… is probably true." Farage and friends are writing a new and entirely inaccurate history of Britain, and in recent weeks we have seen the right capitulate to the hard right, dividing the country between those who are "insiders" and those considered "outsiders."

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage speaks to supporters during a campaign event at Rainton Arena in Houghton-le-Spring on June 27, 20© Ian Forsyth / Getty Images

Take first the idea of fairness.

What George Orwell called "decency" has always been underpinned by a strong sense of civic responsibility. As every poll shows, our country has never long embraced the idea that we are merely selfish individuals with no obligations to each other beyond the garden gate.

This is most illustrated by the broad support for pooling and fairly sharing our resources to pay for our National Health Service, which Farage now actually wants to privatize. But equally concerning is the consensus that has existed since the Beveridge Report of 1942 – that together, through a distinctly British welfare state, we would prevent the "five giants" of want, disease, idleness, ignorance, and squalor – is being torn apart by conservative vindictiveness.

By capping benefits payments regardless of a family's needs, limiting rent payments regardless of what the landlord charges, and denying the right of any third-born child to benefits, the conservative government has severed the link between the mouths we have to feed and the basic support we need to do so.

It was once widely accepted that "social security" was there to remove shame, but now food banks, not the welfare state, are becoming our national safety net, and people are forced to rely on charity, not universal credit, as the last line of defense against poverty.

I have never seen poor people so humiliated and stigmatized. Secondly, we have always supported and, more importantly, popularized around the world the importance of basic civil liberties and the rule of law. I and many other British leaders have spoken in glowing terms about the "golden thread" connecting Magna Carta from 1215 and the Bill of Rights from 1689 with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) from 1950 and the Human Rights Act from 1998.

Yet from the unprecedented way Boris Johnson prorogued parliament to avoid scrutiny and his disparagement of judges performing their constitutional duties, to attacks on the very legal instrument – the European Court of Human Rights – that Churchill and his colleagues created, his present-day successors have systematically undermined rights.

Indeed, the party of law and order is now considering leaving the European Convention on Human Rights – something even Italy's far-right prime minister Giorgia Meloni does not plan to do. These actions follow ministers' orders sent to government lawyers to proceed with drafting laws that disregard international legal conventions and align Britain with "illiberal democracies" like Hungary and Turkey.

Another five years of conservative rule risks leaving Britain outside the truly democratic world. As Keir Starmer said, a Britain true to our values should never find itself in a position of being an international "pariah." And thirdly, Britons have never seen the Channel as a moat separating us from Europe and beyond, but as a highway to the world, making us a nation of traders, commercial ventures, missionaries, and diplomats.

The far right wants to claim that Britain does best when we stand apart and separate, rejecting what they call "entanglements" with outsiders on the grounds that cooperation between countries will always undermine national sovereignty.

By leaving even more European bodies like the ECHR, we would be admitting that we can never again be a leader in Europe. Such thinking rests on the fallacy that closing the door on cooperation will make us stronger. But Britain is at its best when outward-looking – as it was when leading the fight last century in Europe against fascism, totalitarianism, anti-Semitism, and racism, and as it could be again under the internationalism articulated by David Lammy.

We face a choice more fundamental than more or less tax, more or less spending, or more or less migration. The choice is really about what kind of country we are and what we want to become. This general election provides an opportunity to reject Farage's version of Britain and reclaim our true nation, showing that greatness comes from standing up for our principles.

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