by James Billot
Monday, 18
January 2021

Michael Gove’s three point plan for tackling wokeness

Channelling Sir Roger Scruton, the minister offered some sage advice
by James Billot

Ever since Boris Johnson came to power, the Conservative Party’s “war on woke” has become increasingly explicit. Towards the end of last year, Tory MP John Hayes launched the Common Sense Group of around 60 or so MPs and peers in a bid to celebrate “British values” that are not “coloured by Marxist dogma, colloquially known as the ‘woke agenda'”. A month later, International Trade Minister Liz Truss gave a speech in which she claimed that the case for equality was being driven too much by identity politics.

The ubiquity of the word has made it something of a cliché, and so far Tory ministers have refrained from using it. But when Michael Gove was directly questioned about how to combat wokeness in last week’s Roger Scruton Legacy Foundation event, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster gave an interesting answer. Having fought his own proto-culture war when he served as Education Minister between 2010-2014, Gove is clearly well-attuned to the dynamics, as he makes clear, in his three point plan:

1. Understand your enemy

What is the intellectual wellspring of this assault on our cultures, our traditions and so many of the principles that have been regarded as common sense for most of the past two millenia? The best guide to this is Roger [Scruton]’s ‘Thinkers of the New Left’ (republished as ‘Fools, Frauds and Firebrands’). It makes the point that the thinkers of the radical Left recognised that one of the reasons why their message wasn’t working was that people — particularly those who weren’t themselves intellectuals — were attached to home; they had feelings of affection for tradition and that these needed to be undermined. The intellectual erosion of those feelings was the work of the Derridas, the Foucaults and the Lacans…The first thing is, if you’re going to engage in this struggle, you need to know what is motivating and what the arguments are of those people in order to be able to take them on as Roger did so brilliantly. 

2. Trust the working class

Maurice Glasman made the point that the working class have saved this country at least twice in the last hundred years. It was the sacrifice of the second world war, but also as appeasement was bewitching the minds of some, it was actually both within the Labour Party but also within a section of the Conservative Party that people knew we needed to take a different course. It took an amazing courage — a courage from below — and it was the same with Brexit. 

3. Democracy is our ally

One of the points that Maurice and others have made is that the ‘cool’ people with ‘cred’, credentials and cultural inroads, they get their prize spots on TV; they’re on the front pages; they’re at the cocktail parties where you get to mingle with power brokers. But ultimately they only have one vote and the guy in Pittsburgh and the woman in Gateshead also has one vote. This is why if you have the common sense of the people enabled through democracy you can have that necessary course correction. 

That was one of the things about Brexit. In the same way as in any Congressional district and parliamentary constituency in the UK, you might think this is safely red or this is safely blue. When we had this referendum, it didn’t matter how red or blue that area was, the vote of that lady in Gateshead mattered just as much as the vote of Lord Peter Mandelson. That was the way in which you had that course correction. So people thought ‘look I’m not going to be bamboozled by all of these arguments about the EU and I don’t need to worry that people are going to think I’m some sort of rube or oik. I can see through this and I’m going to vote for my country to be more accountable to me.

Join the discussion

  • Thanks for explaining. I hope you won’t mind my saying this, but acronyms are not always well understood by your readers, as my own present example attests, and it’s often better to grit your teeth and undertake the no doubt tiresome process of writing things out in full.

  • Are you assuming that those who advocate all that social justice mush we call woke would lose a referendum?

    Don’t be so sure. The anti-woke vote would be caricatured as the last desperate cry of a dispossessed white patriarchy while the woke would be sanctified as noble warriors fighting bravely to right the historical wrongs commited by the privileged against society’s marginalised and excluded. Why do you think that BLM/Antifa never get the bad press they so richly deserve?

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