by UnHerd
Wednesday, 26
May 2021

Study: the culture war that does cut through

What may seem like a Twitter brouhaha can have political impact
by UnHerd
Photo by Guy Smallman/Getty Images

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‘:

I had coffee with someone who didn’t even mention transgender bathrooms. I had a beer with a group of men, none of whom was concerned about the prominence of the union jack or the fate of Cecil Rhodes’ statue. What could explain their mysterious silence on these pressing issues? 
- Henry Mance, FT

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.

Join the discussion

  • Yes, I think that sounds about right.
    One of the interesting things I have found is the extent to which the the resentment among white working class people is hidden. It is not hidden from me because I have done so much site work as a member of that demographic (even if my sensibilities make me an incomplete fit). For theorists on the left who have not had this ongoing contact, I do believe that were they to experience for themselves the unvarnished truth of the terrible resentment and sense of betrayal, they would be shocked.
    I think they think this degree of resentment and hatred is only felt by those they accept as the marginalised and the oppressed, but it is not. Once you get past the wall of silence you hear language that would rival that of the most hate filled religious fanatic. There is no equivocation, either.

    This remains under the surface until it comes time to vote. If the left understood what was going on, they would have predicted the fall of Hartlepool. Their leader would not be in the least surprised or dismayed by the scale of the loss.

    The people I am talking about have been robbed of the power and the right to express their resentment. The situation is not getting better, either, it is getting worse.

    The problem the left have is that they will not accept the above as bearing any resemblance to reality. As long as they fail to accept it (and why would they accept it when they do not see it), Hartlepool will just be the beginning.

  • CRT’s core belief is that racism is a social construct woven into the fiber of society. But apparently only majority white society. Bigotry has been an unfortunate part of the human feature set since the dawn of time and continues today, often between people who are indistinguishable.
    It gives lip service to the notion that racism is not exclusive to any single group, then typically targets white people. What is amazing is about America is that Founders came from wholly white societies with no experience of multicultural anything because the term didn’t exist back then.
    Yet men with no such experience created the greatest multicultural society the world has ever known. In a sane world, someone like Ibram Kendi would be Henry Rogers, which is what’s on his birth certificate. One could not invent a more racist caricature of a person than one claiming to be anti-racist.

  • No, Bridgeford. The National Trust and its membership was a victim of a malignant charlatan being its chairman, until he got justly disposed of.
    If Kim Yong-Un ever gets deposed, will you claim he was a victim of cancel culture?

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