Children identifying as animals, public officials using Black Lives Matter hashtags, the campaign against Kathleen Stock, men in women’s prisons, the push for reparations: for conservative activists and many others, they’re all demonstrations. of the culture war. They are right?
In a sense, no. Some of these developments are different: the dispute over self-identification has no link, at least at first sight, to that over reparations: the demand that the descendants of slaves obtain money from the descendants of the owners, or at least countries ever contaminated. for trafficking in human flesh.
In another yes. There is a connection between all these phenomena, although it is not easy to pinpoint. They have in common the assumption that the conventional view is wrong, and that British parliamentary government and (increasingly) Western liberal democracy itself have more to be ashamed of than proud of.
The link branches out into a form of doublethink. On the one hand, this new way of thinking, having scorned the project of Western civilization, also throws an integral conviction into it: the belief in objective truth. You can point out that this is also a challenge to religious beliefs in general, for example Islam as well.
On the other hand, this lens through which the world is viewed privileges some people over others. “Your truth”, as Meghan Markle says, trumps my truth, or rather, the idea of truth itself that has a basis in thought rather than feeling. And the feelings of some triumph over those of others: those of blacks, for example, those of whites.
This is how the new movement gets around its potential problem with Islam. For him, religion has nothing to do with Western civilization (but what about Al-Andalus?), so it has a privilege that Christianity does not. The same is true of Judaism, hence the anti-Semitism of the left.
It is true at once that this worldview, for which “wake up” is a kind of shorthand, is existentially challenging for conservatives and alienated by most voters. The tension between the two is a trap for the unwary. Here are two examples of how to trade it: one unsuccessful, one successful.
The first involved footballers “taking a knee”. There was resistance from the right, based on opposition to Black Lives Matter, that is, the US campaign that includes calls to defund the police. Lee Anderson said that he would boycott watching the England team.
However, football fans did not establish a connection, rightly or wrongly, between the gesture and the movement. There were some boos. But there was more applause. It can be argued that a larger number of fans sat idly by, at least over time and in many places.
Still, the median reaction seems to have been that racism is bad, which is true, and that protesting against it is okay. The gesture has become so common in games that it is almost meaningless, like the Romans offering a pinch of incense to the gods.
And so the Conservatives got into a mess about it, many saying footballers shouldn’t kneel, let alone taking the opposite position and the party was potentially at war with Gareth Southgate and the national team. Boris Johnson backed down, urging the country to get behind the team while he refused to condemn the booing fans.
The second was all about trans self-identification in Scotland. Should the UK government in Westminster strike down the SNP in Scotland by moving Section 35 of the Scotland Act, effectively preventing the move? Some urged caution: some conservative MSPs, some whips, and most of all, Sue Gray.
The risk was that Scottish voters opposed to trans self-identification would switch to supporting it if hated English Conservatives overruled St Nicola Sturgeon, who owned everything she polled at the time. Some Downing Street advisers insisted that this take was nonsense. So did Kemi Badenoch, who wanted the section to move.
So did Alister Jack, who, once he made up his mind, stuck with it, despite attempts to change it. Rishi Sunak followed Jack’s advice. Section 35 was moved. It quickly became clear that Sturgeon, in the eyes of Scottish voters, had not been pushed to the right but rather had been pushed into a corner.
Sunak had taken a dagger and punctured the SNP bubble. Her political slide accelerated almost from that point on, and Sturgeon herself was last seen being interviewed by police. The Prime Minister’s decision on Section 35 remains the government’s most successful to date.
These two conservative interventions, one confused and unsuccessful, the other focused and successful, contain lessons for the future. The culture war is not one at all, but rather the culture wars, plural. Despite all the links connecting the various fronts, the fighting is not like a conventional conflict between two opposing armies.
Rather, it is more like a civil war in the Middle East, where one might face one band of enemies today and a different one tomorrow, with different movements forming and reforming, often with the same personnel. Amidst this bewildering and shifting terrain, ministers, parliamentarians and activists must keep their wits about them.
Above all, they shouldn’t worry about Woke to the exclusion of everything else. This is the trap that many Labor MPs and much of the left are falling into (much to the frustration of what is left of the old-fashioned Marxists, with their belief in Hegelian dialectic and class struggle).
It will cause Keir Starmer no end of trouble if he becomes Prime Minister. In the opinion of voters, the most important problems facing the country remain the economy, the NHS and immigration. Woke is attached to the latter, especially by small boats, and his belief that national borders are illegitimate.
But if the Conservatives set their sights on him to the exclusion of all else, they will be turning their backs on the voters. In the meantime, there are three courses ministers should take, as Woke is especially vulnerable when compromising the safety of women, what children are taught, and fairness in general (for example, when biological men compete in women’s sports ).
First, speak. The government is a pulpit for bullies, and what ministers say matters. So Gillian Keegan needs to be quick on the draw, for example, on self-identification in schools. Second, they must act. The recent Freedom of Expression Bill was a start. “In terms of academic freedom, it’s a game changer,” Eric Kaufmann recently wrote on this site.
Now Kemi Badenoch has urged Ofsted to send inspectors to Rye College in East Sussex, the school where a teacher allegedly told Year 8 pupils they were “despicable” for claiming there are only two sexes. But third and last, the Government must think strategically.
Recently on this site, Kate Coleman and Maya Forstater described the confusion over sex and gender in the Equality Act. This cat’s cradle needs to be unraveled, and the conservators have had 13 years to do it. But it’s still a mass of twisted threads. Because?
It could be said because Conservative MPs do not have a united vision, as we have seen on the controversial ban on trans conversion therapy, which an identity-believing minority enthusiastically supports. But my feeling is that they are a relatively small portion of the Parliamentary Party.
Rather, the ministers themselves have not even begun the required intellectual work. What equality? Before the law? of opportunity? of result? On a narrow front, the government needs to prune the equality duties of the public sector. In a broader one, replace the Equality Commission with an Opportunities Commission and review the legislation on equality at Work.