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How Right is Kemi Badenoch? It's not just Tories who support the 'war on woke'

"I am a woman and I know what a woman is.” Parliament TV


July 15, 2022   4 mins

The deposal of King Boris was just the first act of the Tory leadership saga. Politicos and hacks are now dabbling in their amateur clairvoyance, trying to predict whether the new prime minister will move the party further to the Right. An opinion piece in the Guardian, for instance, argues that this has been the trajectory for years, and that Boris Johnson was simply “a culmination” of a shift to “the populist radical Right” that began with Thatcher.

Many of the fears of a “populist” or “Right-wing” drift appear to have been accelerated by a focus on identity politics, or what has become known as the “war on woke”. A piece in the Metro laments the missed opportunity for candidates to move away from the “shameless baiting” around “wedge issues” such as structural racism and trans rights. Suella Braverman said that the country needs to “get rid of all this woke rubbish”. Penny Mordaunt hit back at those who wish to “damage” her reputation by depicting her as “woke”. Even the frontrunner, Rishi Sunak, has taken a swipe at “clumsy, gender-neutral language”. According to the Metro, all of this represents “a notable swing to the Right”.

But is it really the case that “woke” politics are in any meaningful sense Left-wing? This movement’s cheerleaders are predominately middle class, and rarely seem to show any interest in the traditional leftist goal of redressing economic inequality. The overwhelming number of feminists who have been targeted for their gender-critical views in recent years have been staunchly on the Left. Yet issues such as free speech, and how the recognition of biological differences between men and women is necessary for the preservation of women’s rights, are now routinely dismissed as symptomatic of a “Right-wing culture war”.

This was particularly apparent to me at an event on Monday at the House of Lords in support of freedom of expression arranged by Riverside Advisory. I was the MC for a series of speeches which featured members of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the SNP. Far from being a “Right-wing talking point”, the range of political affiliations represented on the bill demonstrated that free speech is, or at least should be, a non-partisan issue.

The first speaker I introduced to the platform was Tory leadership hopeful Kemi Badenoch. At one point, she directly addressed the common misapprehension that free speech is “a cover for bigoted middle-aged white men to spout politically incorrect nonsense”. When Badenoch pointed out that she was neither middle-aged, white, nor a man, a heckler shouted: “Are you sure?”

Without missing a beat, Badenoch replied: “I’m sure. I am a woman and I know what a woman is.” This was greeted by cheers and applause, particularly from the strong contingent of Left-wing feminists who were present. The debates that have since raged online about the prospect of Badenoch as the next Tory leader have revealed that she has considerable support from traditional leftists by virtue of her stance on the culture wars. Can this really be described as “a notable swing to the right”?

The political designations of “Left” and “Right” date from the National Assembly established in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Members who felt that the power of the king ought to be restricted sat to the left of the assembly’s president, those who did not sat to the right. The historian Marcel Gauchet has outlined the subsequent “long drawn-out process that lasted more than three quarters of a century”, but by the beginning of the twentieth century the association of the “Right” with traditional values and the “Left” with progressive reform was firmly established.

The rise of the “woke” movement has destabilised these terms to the point of irrelevance. Many people whose socialist credentials could not be more well established have been dismissed as “Right-wing”, “far-Right” or “fascist” simply for insisting on the importance of evidence-led analysis and free speech. Queer theorist Judith Butler has claimed that the “anti-gender ideology is one of the dominant strains of fascism in our time”. Where there are no shared definitions of terms, discussion becomes impossible. Maybe that’s the whole point.

The way in which culture warriors have taken control of our institutions — including, crucially, the civil service — has meant that their worldview will inform major policy decisions irrespective of whether a Labour or Conservative government is at the helm. We might be able to vote a particular party out of office, but we cannot do anything about the sundry quangos and publicly funded bodies who are in the grip of this ideology.

Take, for instance, the College of Policing, the body responsible for law enforcement training. In April 2021, the Home Secretary instructed the College of Policing to modify their guidance so that police no longer record “non-crime hate incidents”. In December 2021, the Court of Appeal ruled that the recording of non-crime hate incidents was unlawful. To this day, the College of Policing remains committed to this unlawful practice. With this public body seemingly so determined to ignore the Home Office and high courts, we can be certain that it has been ideologically captured.

The redrawing of the boundaries between Left and Right was escalated by the Brexit vote, another political matter that was co-opted by culture warriors. For many commentators the vote was reduced to a Manichean struggle of good versus evil, or racist versus not-racist. Few genuine socialists could have possibly countenanced our membership of a pro-corporate trading bloc with capitalism at the heart of its constitution, but to vote Leave was suddenly perceived as a vote for the “Right”. This made little sense, given that the Remain campaign was spearheaded by the Conservatives, and the most prominent politicians in Brussels at the time — Guy Verhofstadt, Donald Tusk, Jean-Paul Juncker, Michel Barnier — all hailed from centre-Right or neoliberal parties.

The same binary thinking has been imposed onto all subsequent political disputes; even discussions about the efficacy of lockdowns during the pandemic became reduced to a question of whether one was on the “right” or “wrong” side of history. One’s position on gender self-identification, structural racism, free speech, or any of the other “culture war” topics, is now commonly deemed a marker of where one is situated on the Right/Left spectrum. This human tendency to reduce complex discussions to simple binaries is understandable, but it is a temptation to be resisted.

These circumstances have birthed some strange alliances. Many Left-wing feminists are now writing for Right-wing publications, and cross-party support for the principle of free speech is growing. That conflicts on these issues have arisen within both the Conservative Party and Labour should remind us that the culture wars cannot be understood as a battle between Left and Right. Whereas it was once possible to agree on how these terms were defined, such a consensus no longer exists. Perhaps we need to accept that the very concepts of “Left” and “Right” are now beyond the point of utility.


Andrew Doyle is a comedian and creator of the Twitter persona Titania McGrath

andrewdoyle_com

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Gin Not Sling
Gin Not Sling
2 years ago

I’m male, pale and trying hard not to be stale. Almost 50 this year. But I find I have more in common with a Nigerian-born young female politician on these cultural/social issues than any other who might be expected to represent my views. This article is spot on – these are not issues of right or left, but are just as important and opposing their impact can’t be left to drift. More power to Kemi as she vocalises opposition to the undermining of family, science, societal cohesion and the dangerous advance of “progressive” ideology.

Jorge Espinha
Jorge Espinha
2 years ago
Reply to  Gin Not Sling

1972! Great year.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 years ago
Reply to  Jorge Espinha

The best vintage ever, ‘72 (although not for Bordeaux, apparently).

While the author correctly notes the appearance of many ‘left wing’ feminists writing for ‘right wing’ newspapers, he does miss something: woke behaviours are very, very rare in anyone who even claims to be a conservative or right of centre; in people who actually are, such behaviour is non-existent. Right/left may be less binary than before, but a schism that sees some, mostly older, leftists finding common cause with conservatives over a specific issue does not render the whole thing redundant.

I’ve given up and embraced my staleness!

Last edited 2 years ago by Alphonse Pfarti
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 years ago
Reply to  Gin Not Sling

Excellent comment apart from the minor point that K.Badenoch was born in the UK rather than Nigeria, although she did spend a lot of her childhood in Nigeria.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago

We might be able to vote a particular party out of office, but we cannot do anything about the sundry quangos and publicly funded bodies who are in the grip of this ideology.

So stop funding them. It’s the privately funded bodies that are harder to be rid of, which will require reforming the entire ‘charity/non-profit’ and ‘influencing/lobbying’ sectors. But we could do that too, if we put our minds and wills to it.

Last edited 2 years ago by Laura Creighton
Stuart Sutherland
Stuart Sutherland
2 years ago

You hit it on the nail Laura! Withdraw their funding if they don’t do as they’re told.

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago

Question is why Collage of Policing is allowed to ignore ruling of High Court?
Maybe leaders of this institution should be charged with contempt of court.
Then they would have criminal record (assuming that contempt of court is criminal offence, some lawyer or barrister could comment here).

Thomas Clark
Thomas Clark
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew F

The College needs to be abolished and replaced.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew F

I think renaming it the Collage of Policing would more accurately reflect the utter joke that it, and UK law enforcement in general, has become.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 years ago

It could be temporarily renamed The Cottage of Policing during Pride Month. To demonstrate allyship or whatever.

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Well that just about made me spit out my tea.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 years ago
Reply to  M. Jamieson

Hopefully a stiff application of Cillit Bang will enable you to rub the stains out of the Axminster.

Last edited 2 years ago by Richard Craven
Thomas Clark
Thomas Clark
2 years ago

This is the whole “Blairite” system that some hoped Johnson would dismantle.

Margaret TC
Margaret TC
2 years ago

This argument has been made before, but it obviously needs to be repeated. The quote from Butler confirms her standing as one of the most overrrated blinkered intellectuals ever.

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
2 years ago

Thank goodness for a coherent argument about the increasingly redundant concepts of “left” and “right”. Like many people in this forum, and in others where I occasionally comment, I have attempted to point out the increasing uselessness of those concepts. However, in none of those attempts, and in none of my many recent discussions with friends about this — have I met with much success. Partly that is because I was not able to marshal the kinds of hard evidence that Andrew Doyle assembles so impressively here; partly it is because I’m not quick-minded enough; and partly it is because those who persist in using these binary concepts seem to be hard-wired to believe that left is good, and right is bad or even evil.
For at least the last ten years, I have tended to think that the issues do indeed cross traditional boundaries. Moreover, the core issues raised by his arguments about where Mrs Badenoch stands on these and other issues, raise a different kind of polarity.
Do we want authoritarian government and governmental policies that poke their noses into as many areas of civic and personal life as they can? Or do we want a government that understands the meaning of liberty, and that economic and social prosperity is best served by small government?
Mrs Badenoch clearly belongs in the latter camp. If I had a vote in the current election for PM, that’s where it would go. She probably won’t win; but she will be worth watching.

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
2 years ago

She’s not “Right”. She thinks things through. That’s rather different.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Story

These days that does mean she’s Right, actually.

Raymond Inauen
Raymond Inauen
2 years ago

Recently, a friend pointed out that most of these issues are “fringe issues” that bring little real progress or social benefit and, as this article shows, are also “wedge issues” that divide people into camps instead of uniting them. If anyone remembers, there was a very nice campaign by Benetton in the 90’s that celebrated “the united colors of” and showcased a wide range of ethnicities to promote their products. Color was beautiful and the world would be united by it. This new wave of activists have taken their messages too far, destroying the positive goals they were meant to have. It has become a form of blackmail by a dogmatic agenda that runs everything into the ground that stands in its way. In part, everyone has been blindsided by the themes of these activists, opening the door to people like Putin, who until now have been able to invade Ukraine unimpeded. This is the first wake-up call, but will it be enough, or will it take an even worse event before the focus is turned back to the issues that really matter.

Last edited 2 years ago by Raymond Inauen
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Raymond Inauen

Your point is very salient; I, too, fear that all the gains of the past few decade may be undone by these so-called activists, By the way, I would love a glass of that champagne 🙂

Mary McFarlane
Mary McFarlane
2 years ago

Prefer champagne to a campaign any day and yes I do remember United Colours of Benetton …..

Raymond Inauen
Raymond Inauen
2 years ago

I definitely meant campaign not champagne but in all “ray”ality champagne is much better and it’s almost weekend. Cheers

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
2 years ago
Reply to  Raymond Inauen

What I remember of that campaign is that it focused people’s attention on identity politics – saying differences are beautiful, yet ultimately divisive.

Andy Martin
Andy Martin
2 years ago
Reply to  Raymond Inauen

Recently, a friend pointed out that most of these issues are “fringe issues” that bring little real progress or social benefit.”
Really?
Is it true for example that there is very little benefit to be gained by following MLK”s advocacy that we should judge people not by the colour of their skin. but by the content of their character?
Then how about the continuing catastrophe of the reverse, the demented cult of the woke idea according to Sts. Robin DiAngelo and Ibrahim Kendi X that we should judge people by the colour of their skin and that all white people are born in a state of original sin by being born white. This belief is adhered to by all too many regressive lefty lunatics and has resulted in putting back race relations by a generation or more.
Or how about if you find that your daughter has been identifying as trans for the past six months or so and her teachers have been encouraging it and helping her to obtain breast binders and setting her on the path towards fully transitioning with puberty blockers and HRT.
Still think its a fringe issue?
How about if that tweet you clicked ‘like’ got picked up by one of these lethal lunatics and as a result of the Twitter s–t storm, you lost your job became a pariah with no easy chance for reemployment?
So yes, I agree, very little social benefit, but potentially the reverse, a great deal of social harm, and especially for some people more than others.

Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago
Reply to  Andy Martin

Indeed, to suppose that the “activists” of today have any connection to the protestors of the MLK generation is mistaken. We need to keep saying this.
Modern “activists” are primarly motivated by a need to exaggerate and grow the “problems” they complain of. But they are not problem solvers like the pre-70s protestors. Their continued relevance lies in ensuring that their particular wedge issues are never fixed. Whilst they witter on about “equality” and “diversity”, their real agenda in promoting division and unequal legal treatment of different groups. They are a disgrace and parasites on society.

Raymond Inauen
Raymond Inauen
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter B

I agree with you.
The real problem is that successive waves of activist movements have now become businesses, with CEOs, offices, marketing support, and a whole host of other requirements to sustain the life of the organizations. This means that you are required to constantly raise money to keep the apparatus going. Once you have successfully completed a campaign, you, as the initiator, are obligated to look for new opportunities that are increasingly rare and obscure. It is a business model designed to create guilt against people and then take their money, most of which goes to the organization and very little to the source of the so-called problem. Activism is no longer a cottage industry, but a highly professionalized industry that has learned to use the media to gain mass market attention and, not least, political influence.

Mary McFarlane
Mary McFarlane
2 years ago

Could we hope that politicians who have experienced difficulties dealing with the Civil Service might find a mission to make it more impartial, by leaving politics and campaigning from the ‘outside’? I guess this means that Civil Service Commissioners – if they still exist – have also been captured. I thought it was up to them to keep the administration on the straight and narrow. Maybe they were abolished for that reason.

Richard Abbot
Richard Abbot
2 years ago

Wokeness – like so many other ‘progressive’ ideas – is a child of the Left, adopted by the Right.
Its not just wokeness that has to be expunged from our lives but the entire corpus of the Left. The fact that this is so hard speaks volumes about the degree to which the Left has been successful in muddying the waters, and getting its opponents to adopt their policies. In the words of Lord Peter of Hitchens, the Conservatives are now a Left-wing party.

Ukunda Vill
Ukunda Vill
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Abbot

Wokeness and the alphabet ingress are both children of satan, to prepare the masses for arrival of the antichrist. Nothing new, the people of Lot did the same in ancient history. But now for the final time, before mankind exits.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 years ago

Given the disgusting wokeness of Penny Mordaunt’s published pronouncements on gender and race, why has she not been summarily expelled from the Conservative Party?

Tim Smith
Tim Smith
2 years ago

It’s not so much that “Left” and “Right” are meaningless or, as the author puts it “beyond the point of utility”, it’s just that they have changed their meanings.

That is causing many on what used to be the Left, now finding themselves on what is now the Right. Understandably, many of them find that concept/ terminology a bit disconcerting.

Last edited 2 years ago by Tim Smith
Simon Tavanyar
Simon Tavanyar
2 years ago

The Left is the party of utopianism. Conservatism is the party of “what works”, e.g., women are equal but different from men, not interchangeable; humans have always adjusted to climate change, but cheap energy is the engine of prosperity for all; free speech is the cornerstone of a free society. Those who want a fair society are moving to the anti -woke side because cancelling people just doesn’t work. We need what works.

Adam McDermont
Adam McDermont
2 years ago

A good article. Yes, terms left and right do not do justice to the manifold complexity of our time.
The Heritage Site | Adam McDermont | Substack

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
2 years ago

Of course, Conservatives would have sat on the left in the National Assembly.

Melissa Martin
Melissa Martin
2 years ago

I’ve always wondered where left/right came from. Thank you, Andrew. Still puzzled by people who believe either side has a monopoly on goodness.

trevor fitzgerald
trevor fitzgerald
2 years ago

Is it a surprise when activists try to identify single issues with identity politics? Life is complicated, nuanced and dynamic why can’t issues and politics also be?

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
2 years ago

It’s a really interesting point. The traditional left/right divide was simple, with the right being on the side of entrenched power and privilege. To that end, the left has always seen structures as oppressive and to be torn down as a means to create a fair society. What has changed though is that ‘the left’ has been taken over – complelety – by its middle class agitators who want to make society perfect. The complication is that what was seen as ‘the right’ – capital and wealth – are quite content with this. The new left then is woke, corporate and wealthy. What then is the opposite of that and is this where Andrew Doyle finds himself?

Lisa Gross
Lisa Gross
2 years ago

I get paid over 190$ per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Heres what I’ve been doing..
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Last edited 2 years ago by Lisa Gross
Mike Bell
Mike Bell
2 years ago

Andrew, you ask “is it really the case that “woke” politics are in any meaningful sense Left-wing? 
I suggest Yes. While I agree with you (and many commentators here) that left/right are overused labels, there is an important sense in which socialism and Woke have philosophical roots.
Both have a collectivist view of society – the individual is identified as part of a group (identity) and the whole group is treated as homogenous.
Stephen Hicks explains it well here: https://youtu.be/gAydErHRJ9w. NAZIs see a struggle between the German group v the Jews etc; communism sees the struggle between workers and capitalist and Woke sees the struggle between white males and women and/or non-whites.
These are not trivial connections. They differ significantly from the British tradition, dating from Magna Carta etc, of the responsible, free individual.
At its most dangerous, Woke post-modernist ideology is what is intellectually undermining the West.

Patrick Turner
Patrick Turner
2 years ago

Andrew Doyle is absolutely correct that many on the left are in despair about identity politics. He reprises a familiar plaint to account for this: left and right no longer make sense. But that misses the much more salient point, which is that identity and culture are properly the concerns of tradition fixated, counter-enlightenment conservatives and (paradoxically) liberal individualists. The left was originally born of a rationalist determination to universally reorder society so as to liberate the masses from economic servitude and all forms of obscurantist dogma and constraint. This meant – and should still mean – that appeals to essential, particularistic identities and culture are anathema. To repeat, Wokeness is an unstable amalgam of conservative essentialism and liberal individualism. What has that to do with socialism? Doyle is only correct that left and right no longer matter if there really is no material difference between the kind of austeritarianism that Khemi Baddenoch advocates for and the mild welfare social democracy of the UK Labour Party. The latter, in its official positions, is depressingly in thrall to wokeism. That is clearly a consequence of the takeover of the left (all over the West) by middle-class professionals. It has created a politically homeless working-class – some of whom have moved to the right – turned off by moralism and the perception that their immediate interests are ignored by the left. If anyone can explain to me how the mass of people in this country are served by Tory economic policies (austerity) and their cavalier treatment of democratic norms and freedoms (protest, voting, industrial action) I might be persuaded that left and right no longer mean anything. It’s precisely because I’m on the left that I find the culture war being waged by the likes of Khemi Baddenoch and right-wing authoritarians all over the world so unimpressive. They may have noticed the symptoms. Who could miss them? But their diagnosis and proposed cure is entirely wrong, because, in keeping with their conservatism, it is, and can only be, cultural.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
2 years ago
Reply to  Patrick Turner

You talk many words, but include surprisingly little meaning. Many certainties, but little reasoning.

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
2 years ago
Reply to  Patrick Turner

The culture war is not conservative! They are barely even aware it’s going on and find themselves 4-0 down in the 88th minute.

harry storm
harry storm
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Michaels

Nor is it the result of “liberal individualism”. Quite the opposite. Liberal individualists (like me) are in the forefront opposing the idiotic woke agenda.

Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
2 years ago

Aside from the woke debate & the left/right issue, I for one will be glad when Badenoch is excluded this incoming week. She’s a thoroughly nasty person who’s probably unfit to be an MP let alone a minister, let alone the prime minister (don’t ask how I know)

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 years ago
Reply to  Hugh Marcus

Well, unless you’re prepared to substantiate it, yours strikes me as just a thoroughly nasty comment

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew D
Thomas Allan
Thomas Allan
2 years ago
Reply to  Hugh Marcus

‘Don’t ask how I know’ basically just means ‘I’m making this up’.

N Forster
N Forster
2 years ago
Reply to  Hugh Marcus

It isn’t clear that you know anything.

Peter Dawson
Peter Dawson
2 years ago
Reply to  Hugh Marcus

Let’s not judge her by her character but by your nasty unfounded, uninformed infantile ad hominem screeching.