Actions and ideas must define us

Fiona Onasanya column
Fiona Onasanya column
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MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya:

As reported in the Peterborough Telegraph, Peterborough is one of five pilot areas that will receive funding for programmes to create more inclusive cities.

Among other things, the programme intends to facilitate English language lessons and the teaching of British values. I have nothing against the idea; I am very much in favour of greater provision of English lessons, as it is a key to success in this country. However, I believe we need to ensure the definition of “British” is focused on a set of ideas rather than an ethnicity. Given that Britain has been constantly refreshed by new influences, dating all the way back to the time of the Romans, it’s important the programme emphasises that Britishness lay in our tolerance, our belief in fairness, our openness, and a concern for our communities. We also need to be mindful that many of those who have come from other lands have very similar values: democratic ideals, for example, are not confined to Britain alone.

Nevertheless, the cash infusion is welcome. However, as also reported in this newspaper, Peterborough is not receiving its fair share of funding from central Government, despite the city council being of the same political complexion. By all means, teach British values: but how can people feel included if, for example, their community is not as well protected as others in the country?

Per person funding of the police in Peterborough is among the lowest in England: I suggest the first duty of the state is to protect its citizens, otherwise justice becomes purely the good of the strong. I have seen what happens when the writ of law and order doesn’t extend to everywhere; it creates a vacuum that is filled by antisocial behaviour or worse.

If Peterborough’s funding were in line with the national average, there would be £30 million more for the Health Service. Yes, people should be aware of the history, values, and spirit that led us to create the National Health Service, but unless we make sure that our hospitals and GP surgeries are resourced properly, the words ring hollow.

Furthermore, if Peterborough was treated the same as a London borough, council tax could be cut by 48 percent. If we are going to instil the idea that Britain is a nation that believes in fairness, how can we allow this to continue without it sounding like nonsense?

It was the conservative philosopher Edmund Burke who wrote, “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” In many respects, our country is lovely; I am proud of this diverse, open and quintessentially British city. It should be the aim of politicians at Westminster and locally to make it better in a real and significant way. If we succeed at this, we will be far more effective at uniting our communities than any pilot programme.