by Henry Hill
Friday, 18
March 2022
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11:30

Boris can’t ignore the culture wars forever

The PM has a plan to deal with racial inequality — but will he go through with it?
by Henry Hill
Credit: Getty

The risk of delay is being overtaken by events. The Government took almost a year to publish their response to the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities (CRED), and as a result it ended up getting a little overtaken by events in Ukraine.

Which is a shame, because Kemi Badenoch — the Tory MP who has taken the lead on equality issues — is doing good work.

She isn’t going as far as some on the Right might wish. Specifically, she opposes repealing the Equality Act, the legislation which spawns all those advertisements for well-remunerated public-sector diversity officers which go round Twitter every so often.

But among the 66 action points included in Inclusive Britain are some worthwhile steps, such as new guidance for civil servants explicitly banning their supporting political campaigns such as BLM on their work accounts.

And during the Q&A she made arguments which hint at useful future work, such as trying to build a school curriculum which brings all students together rather than catering separately to this or that identity group.

Yet despite the strong performance, and a good response from an engaged and friendly crowd at the Royal Society of Arts, it was difficult to shake off the feeling that the Government might not end up following through.

Badenoch had already explained that few of her parliamentary colleagues were particularly engaged in the issues raised by CRED and Inclusive Britain. “I’m doing this more as a duty,” as she diplomatically put it.

Then there’s the fact that any push towards a more Conservative line on equalities risks seeing her specific approach caught between two conflicting poles: on the one hand, the Prime Minister’s aversion to controversy; on the other his newfound need to throw red meat to his backbenchers in order to shore up his leadership.

Depending on which side of bed Boris Johnson gets out of, that could push him either to back away from the programme outlined in Inclusive Britain or shoulder it aside for something more radical.

And what better excuse for taking the former, non-confrontational path than current events. Don’t you know there’s a war in Ukraine? How can we waste time on potentially controversial domestic issues when there’s a war in Ukraine!

Such a narrative might suit a Prime Minister thankful that a foreign policy crisis has driven his problems off the front pages. But it would be a short-sighted approach for the Tories.

Voters are not nearly as engaged with foreign affairs as either politicians or the media. If the Government gets so caught up in the international scene that it neglects the nitty gritty of actually governing, it will be turfed out in 2024. Not even Winston Churchill managed to win on a “thanks for saving the world” ticket — Johnson certainly won’t.

It is also past time that the Right started focusing on structural questions like this over the long term, rather than lurching opportunistically from one headline to the next. As the Left know all too well, the only way to win a ‘culture war’ is to wage it even when it isn’t front-page news.

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Nigel Marriott
Nigel Marriott
3 months ago

I was at the event yesterday and like you, I was struck by that point she made about being slightly isolated on this issue. She noted this was partly due to a fear of speaking out either because of personal attacks from the left but also from constituents moaning about too much focus on these issues.

I wish Kemi success in her endeavours.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
3 months ago
Reply to  Nigel Marriott

Appalling that even such moderate-sounding steps might be allowed to falter for fear of the Guardian clutching its pearls. Good luck to her.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
3 months ago

If the Government gets so caught up in the international scene that it neglects the nitty gritty of actually governing, it will be turfed out in 2024. 
I know other commenters, here and elsewhere, have commented on the perplexing question of why Boris Johnson has a seemingly expansive void in his political body where conservatism should be.
Hypotheses ranging from Carrie Johnson’s influence to Boris’s aversion to controversy to him being left of centre have been proffered.
Perhaps another may be that the government are well aware of the real concerns about ‘woke’ quasi religious, moral authoritarianism, that are beginning to now feature in the public zeitgeist, as well as the consequent pleading for some defence of the citizen from such political-moral zealotry? Such cultural and political concerns and special pleading amount to a juicy problem left untouched until an answer is announced at the ballot box perhaps?

Last edited 3 months ago by michael stanwick
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
3 months ago

When will politicians finally realise that the bast majority of voters do not care a jot, and have no interest whatsoever in the ” issues” of racism, global warming, ” inclusive/ diverse”, but DO care about never ending restrictions on freedom of speech and expression, and an Orwellian nanny state?

Henry Haslam
Henry Haslam
3 months ago

If we are to get anywhere, we need clear debates about clearly specified issues. I only see articles by people who are, broadly, anti-woke. They are the people I agree with. I would welcome an opportunity to debate, seriously, with people who hold opposite views.
As I understand it, the moral foundations of woke are sound. None of us actually would contend that black lives don’t matter, or that is OK to be nasty to trans people. Woke means awake, or alert, to issues of deprivation, discrimination etc and to be willing to address them or to support those who can address them.
The trouble comes with the rather extraordinary edifices that are built on these foundations, with assertions that need to be questioned from moral and rational standpoints.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
3 months ago
Reply to  Henry Haslam

It would be nice to believe that the moral foundations of woke are sound. But I am not sure that the foundations truly arise from moral considerations at all; rather than being founded on reason they emerge from emotions (and not particularly nice ones)

To draw from The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, these are the motivators of much that informs wokeism:

  1. a fear that anything that is not in agreement with my thinking is damaging (if you have the effrontery to express an opinion contrary to mine, you hurt and endanger me)
  2. the axiom that my feelings are right and always to be valid and trusted (don’t assault me with your so-called ‘facts’ or ‘reason’ or ‘science’)
  3. that all humanity is irredeemably divided into two implacably hostile camps, the good and the evil (and let me tell you, buster, you’re one of the evil ones).

This is narcissistic, selfish, irrational, vindictive, and profoundly illiberal. If you oppose me, you are evil, and deserve to be silenced, and possibly destroyed.

Sound moral foundations? I don’t think so.

Henry Haslam
Henry Haslam
3 months ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

I am a great admirer of Jonathan Haidt and his books.
My comment was to distinguish between the sound moral foundations and the extraordinary edifice that is constructed on them. You, and Haidt, rightly criticise the edifice. Read my second and third paragraphs.
The trouble is not just that misguided thinking of so much woke but that people who should know better seem unwilling to challenge it. Do they fear that they don’t have a critical argument that they can defend? That’s why I appeal for open debate. Sloppy thinking should always be open to challenge.

Last edited 3 months ago by Henry Haslam
Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
3 months ago
Reply to  Henry Haslam

My comment was to distinguish between the sound moral foundations and the extraordinary edifice that is constructed on them.

Noted.

And my comment was to challenge the assumption (and it is merely an assumption) that the foundations are moral in the first place.

I think the foundations are not moral for two reasons:

  • they are not moral in origin, arising from moral impulse or moral reasoning (rather, their origin is in their proponents’ feelings)
  • they are not moral in outcome (in that they result in blame, vilification, attack, hatred, threats of violence, suppression of free speech, and the driving out of reason and reasonableness).
patrick macaskie
patrick macaskie
3 months ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

I am not sure these distinctions should divide us. Where Wilfred is right is that the “woke “ don’t allow you to make this distinction, making the process of debate very frustrating. It suits their defence to say that you have to accept the whole edifice and if you don’t it proves you are racist etc. I think the architects know exactly what they are doing. I am not sure the youthful adherents have the experience to understand how profoundly they are undermining free speech. In my mind they have been radicalised as surely as Shemima Begum and the blonde haired youths in the 1930s.

Last edited 3 months ago by patrick macaskie
Henry Haslam
Henry Haslam
3 months ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

You continue to find fault with the way woke thinking has developed, which I agree with.
But would really disagree with me about the moral origins of BLM? BLM dates from 2013 and 2014 in the USA when there was evidence that, in sections of the police, black lives were not thought to matter as much as white lives. It was surely morally right to challenge this?
The line BLM took when brought over to the UK was less relevant here, and, like other woke thinking, developed more and more sloppy thinking.
Your second bullet is interesting. Do people like those you describe write articles that can be referenced and challenged? or is it all anonymous? or hearsay?

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
3 months ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Spot on …. I upvoted the other guy and upvoted you so I need to go off and have a good think…or cancel myself ..or something.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
3 months ago
Reply to  Henry Haslam

I would question the soundness of the moral foundations of Black Lives Matter and trans activists’ claims. The problem is the particularisation of the claims. Of course all lives matter and blacks are entitled to as much concern regarding their life as those with white skins, but as soon as you identify a subset of lives as mattering you imply that this is not a universal concern but one concentrated on people of a particular skin colour and by implication that other lives might matter less.
The National Socialist German Workers’ Party undoubtedly thought German lives mattered, and indeed the German people had received a raw deal as a result of the Versailles treaty and had legitimate complaints about their lives. However, their particular assertion about German lives was not a morally sound one because it implied others lives mattered less. In the case of Jews much much less.
A statement that all lives (including black lives) matter is morally sound. As soon as you select a particular group as having lives that particularly matter you move away from morally sound grounds. This is indeed the problem of trans activists. Of course, all are entitled to respect and not to be harassed even if they wish to present as a sex other than their sex of birth. That is a sound moral position but trans activists go further than that they claim that trans women should be entitled to be treated as women for all purposes and that the concerns of women should be disregarded in all cases regardless of the adverse effects on such women. This is clearly not a morally valid position elevating as it does one section of the population above that of another. It arises from moving from universal principles to particular one’s that clash with others legitimate rights.

Henry Haslam
Henry Haslam
3 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

You rightly question the morality of the way woke thinking has developed. My point was to distinguish between this and the origin of the term: being awake (woke) to injustices or wrongs that should be righted.
BLM dates from 2013 and 2014 in the USA when there was good reason to believe that, in sections of the police, black lives were not thought to matter as much as white lives. It was surely morally right to challenge this? The line BLM took when brought over to the UK was less relevant, and, like other woke thinking, developed more and more sloppy thinking.