by James Billot
Monday, 18
January 2021
Video
07:00

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:


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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.

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Harry Powell
Harry Powell
1 year ago

Trust democracy he says. Fine, we should, but how much of “woke” is beyond democratic control? When schools, universities, quangos, councils, HR departments, advertising agencies, the media, the bar and corporations all espouse woke how do you fight it? This is part of the reason woke has blindsided the right all over the west. The right doesn’t have a theory of culture and the radical left does. For the right, the libertarian right especially, culture is something you buy and they are happy to leave it to market forces. The realisation that this won’t work anymore is slowing dawning on them, particularly under conditions of zirp, as the market can is being usurped by culture. Civil society is being hollowed out by this cult of post-modernism, it is the task of people like Gove to assert that there are values that are valid and universal that lie beyond the marketplace and find mechanism for ordinary people to assert them in their lives without fear of censure.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Harry Powell

I agree. Let’s see some explanation of what the ‘right’ wants, what values it believes in and what it’s objectives are.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
1 year ago
Reply to  Harry Powell

“Trust democracy he says. Fine, we should, but how much of “woke” is beyond democratic control?”
In a nutshell, far too much.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  Harry Powell

Very good comment, but who or what is zirp?

Harry Powell
Harry Powell
1 year ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Zero Interest Rate Policy, basically no time cost to capital take away the tennis net when it comes to competition.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Harry Powell

And I thought that I understood English. None of these theories are relevant; that’s what they are, just theories.
There are millions of people in the UK who used to live in fantastic communities, which politicians have destroyed by their theories. These theories include uncontrolled immigration. And the same politicians have made it impossible to discuss these things because you just get called a racist.

My mother gets really upset when she talks about black people. She doesn’t know whether it is polite to say ‘black’ or ‘coloured’ or ‘non-white’. Can she say that the next-door neighbours are Muslim or is that racist?

Young people who contribute to these columns with the theories don’t realise that they will get old soon and will be in the same position. It happens to everybody.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  Harry Powell

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.

phillip.yeadon
phillip.yeadon
1 year ago

‘Cynical Theories’ is a good read.

vince porter
vince porter
1 year ago

We have made a full 180 turn. The Liberal/socialist parties despise the culture of blue collar workers. They seek to convert rather than cultivate them. The conservatives have embraced them and their values. Shorn of the loud Trump caricature, Trumpism Refined will not fade to black but will appeal to people throughout the West.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

You either believe that Labour’s endless (minority) causes are just, in which case you alienate the majority, who vote for any other party.
Or you believe that they are usually unjust and that it is important to speak to the majority. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground.

I will repeat what I said on another topic today (sorry if you’ve already read it).

A wonderful example of Labour-ness (or woke-ness) can be found in Wales which has a population of 3 million and is very poor, on a par with Northern England. Works in Northern England, Wales and Scotland are funded by a sum of money from taxation, apportioned by Westminster. On a per capita basis, England has the least and Scotland the most.

In Wales the Labour leaders have used this money for many worthy causes but there is a problem. Because of these causes they don’t have enough left to vaccinate at the same rate as England and Scotland. In the Leader of the Welsh Assembly Question Time, televised two days ago, Mark Drakeford, when criticised for the slow vaccination in Wales, famously said, “This is not a sprint, we are in it for the long haul.”

The polite answer was, “It bloody well is a sprint.” The discussion showed that a large amount of money was being held in reserve for ‘other things’.

Whether you believe in vaccination against Covid or not, this is a clear example of woke behaviour, which means sacrificing the majority for the principles of the minority.

Carl Goulding
Carl Goulding
1 year ago

If it had been left to Parliament Brexit would never have happened so if wokeness is really going to be tackled then we need another referendum .

daniel Earley
daniel Earley
1 year ago
Reply to  Carl Goulding

A referendum on what? Are you suggesting that Parliament should have ignored the referendum result and that Brexit should be reversed?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  daniel Earley

I think the point being made is that if parliament is already Woke, then they won’t rid themselves of it easily.

A referendum couldn’t resolve it, we just need to shame the current bunch into changing their thought processes.

At least the current UK government is now starting to push back.

Kiran Grimm
Kiran Grimm
1 year ago
Reply to  Carl Goulding

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?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  Carl Goulding

Non sequitur.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Carl Goulding

Oh dear. Not an interesting comment.

Jonathan Jones
Jonathan Jones
1 year ago

Is the “war on woke” becoming “increasingly explicit”? I have seen no evidence whatsoever of that. All I have seen is the government enabling it through their weak and/or non-existent response to it.

William Cameron
William Cameron
1 year ago

Its very interesting how predictable the left is. Look around. Where is the most solid working left wing “woke” base ? Universities.
Which organisations have been the worst at helping their students/clients through this pandemic. And which have been the worst for demanding payment for reduced or even non existent services. Universities.
Beware the “woke” left they will always be the cruellest to fellow humans “for the cause”.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago

Seems like common sense. I know Gove is an intelligent fellow (which you have to concede even if you don’t like him). However, all I can ever think when I see him is: oh look, it’s a ventriloquist’s dummy! Sorry, Michael.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago

As ever, no articulation of what ‘common sense’ (to claim ‘common sense’ has been consistent for two thousand years is absurd and Gove knows it) actually means, no explanation of what is the culture that needs to be protected and no discussion of how democracy, if it’s so important, can be protected and improved upon.

Basically, a three point plan for keeping things as they are and to diffuse the arguments of those who want change because the current situation suits us very well, thank you.

The tipping of the hat to the working class for ‘saving the nation’ is patronising while at the same time emphasising the fact that Gove thinks the nation and the working class are separate entities. The working class supports the nation, on occasion. Presumably only when it’s not on strike or campaigning for better working conditions and wealth redistribution.

To suggest equivalence between choosing to fight World War Two and leaving the EU is monumentally insulting to all of those who fought in that war, British and non-British.

He’s a clever bloke but his cleverness is fully aligned to promoting his own importance and self interest (remember Johnson wasn’t fit to be Prime Minister in his view – that bit of ‘common sense’ was soon forgotten). All in all, when it comes self promotion and messaging – he’s a bit of an expert.

Micheal Lucken
Micheal Lucken
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

I think its fair to say there is such a thing as common
sense. Its not easy to define, it changes over time and according to where you are in the world. The sort of things most people believe and feel they can take for granted. It is a feature of a stable society. Of course all societies to some degree are in a state of flux and tension between change and tradition. Big changes in short periods will tend to diminish notions of common sense and I suggest we are going through such a period. It might lead to an improved stronger society but I can’t help feeling a greater sense of disintegration.

David Gray
David Gray
1 year ago

2…look I’m not going to be bamboozled by all of these arguments about the EU…”

Would be fine if the Brexit referendum had been run on the basis of fair and honest information.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  David Gray

There is no such thing. The definition of ‘honest’ is that you happen to agree with the statement. When have elections ever been honest? Are politicians in general honest?

Brexit was about Young versus Old. I even remember a Remainer saying that people over 65 should be disenfranchised because it wasn’t their future – which to me is like National Socialism.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

Question. In the article and the comments below we seem be talking about The Left or Labour and The Right or Tory. Is there nothing else?

Ian Terry
Ian Terry
1 year ago

Gove, please remember is a back stabber and like flotsum will go wherever the wind and tide will take him. Take what he does with a pinch of salt. He still covers the top job.

Jon Mcgill
Jon Mcgill
1 year ago

Still puzzling to me that Gove is relevant to any political discussion. This bloviating is madness dressed up as sane intellectual pondering of a nation’s future. These folks all got cozy with the idea of Trump and that they still recite critiques about so-called “identity politics”, when in fact all politics fall under that heading makes it even more mysterious that they find any audience any more!