What may seem like a Twitter brouhaha can have political impact
A study out this morning by Kings College London’s Policy Institute leads on the finding that the public aren’t even sure if the word “woke” is a compliment or an insult, and are unsure what “culture wars” actually means. It comes just days after a YouGov poll that found that 59% of people don’t know what “woke” means and most of the people who do, don’t consider themselves to be it.
It is tempting to jump on these findings as proof that the ongoing arguments about things like gender and race, empire and statues, are an obsession of a small minority on Twitter and have no political bearing on the wider population. Perhaps the righteous social justice warriors on the Left and the angry reactionaries on the Right are equally guilty of fighting an irrelevant battle? The FT’s Henry Mance certainly implied as much in his conclusion this week that ‘Britain’s culture war is not really taking place‘:
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To the extent that most people are not engaged in the details of the culture war or the latest Twitter brouhaha of course he is right. But it would be dangerous for the liberal Left to conclude on that basis that the culture wars don’t pose a threat.
Further down in the same KCL study, two findings jump out.
First, the issue most commonly bracketed with the notion of “culture wars” over the past two decades is Brexit — on this evidence, it is the biggest culture war of them all. 14% of articles mentioned the two concepts together, ahead of Empire and Slavery and Race. Not even the FT would deny that Brexit “cut through” and has left British politics forever altered in its wake.
Second, there is one concept attached to the “culture wars” that the KCL study shows has cut through far ahead of any others: the concept of “white privilege”. 55% of respondents say they have heard a lot about it, compared to just 33% for “being woke” and 29% for “cultural appropriation”. The trickle-down effect of the ongoing arguments about this or that protected minority seems to be that a substantial number of poor white voters have understood that, in this new ethic, they are somehow considered privileged. And that rankles. It would take a brave political analyst who discounted this effect on the historic turn to the Tories among poorer and middle class groups in the “Red Wall.”
No doubt much of the culture wars, as fought on social media on a daily basis, pass the vast majority of voters by. But the intuition that among many voters that they have slipped off the priority list of the progressive Left is all too real — as the election results this month devastatingly proved.