by Gareth Roberts
Thursday, 3
June 2021

Tories, masters of the culture wars? Don’t make me laugh

The Conservatives are clueless, and culturally less powerful than the Left
by Gareth Roberts
Boris on the campaign trail on the Isle of Wight.Credit: Dominic Lipinski – WPA Pool/Getty Images

‘Why The Right Loves The Culture War’ is the title of an article by Ronan Bartenshaw and Marcus Barnett in the latest Tribune, which accuses the Tories of “reinventing themselves as culture warriors” to “overcome the disasters caused by decades of free-market economics”. The piece couldn’t be more different from my colleague Douglas Murray’s essay on the culture wars — which he is adamant are happening — in UnHerd yesterday.

It’s becoming a catchphrase that the current government, and its leader in particular, are lucky in their enemies. This piece captures one of the daftest beliefs about the Tories — that they are clever. For Tribune’s writers, the Conservative Party has embarked on a “project” to hoodwink the electorate by focusing on culture war issues while the gorilla of free market capitalism rampages, visible but unseen, across the stage.

This is crediting the Conservative party with a sagacity I fear it does not possess. Have the authors seen the Tories? It’s always possible that Gavin Williamson is the panjandrums of a grandiose Asimovian project of mass social engineering, but somehow I doubt it. Even the supposedly intellectual Michael Gove has a terrible habit of blurting out his sinister secret plans in public, like the Master in Dr Who.

At one point, the authors vaunt the idea that Theresa May was planning to weaponise culture… This is the Prime Minister who happily used the word queer, banged on about “burning social injustices”, and who flattened a 24-point poll lead in three weeks. Some evil genius.

Bartenshaw and Barnett claim that the Conservative party is “embedded in every institution of influence in British society, from local business to the mass media, the parish church to the military.” The parish church as an institution of influence? Is this 1926?

They are notably coy on any specifics of the culture war (presumably they mean such things as ‘decolonising’ and ‘queer theory’), but they do say:

In the era of Keir Starmer and focus-grouped centrism, the greatest threat to that [Tory] hegemony comes from outside of official politics — from movements channelling deep-seated frustrations at injustice. A series of enabling acts to allow the repressive arm of the state to monitor, infiltrate, and stamp out these relatively nascent movements is logical.
- Tribune

‘Outside of official politics’ — four words that speak volumes. These “movements” are actually groups who have snuck through the gaps in democracy to grab huge amounts of unaccountable power.

This ideology is a product of the unequal capitalist society the authors affect to deprecate. It is the cultural hegemony, backed by the free-market behemoths that Tribune is (justifiably) upset about.

When underdogs such as Apple, Amazon and Facebook are on the same side as these ‘nascent movements’, maybe they’re not quite so grass roots? Are we really being asked to believe that The National Trust, Kew Gardens and the Royal Academy of Music are plucky, anti-establishment forces?

In fact it has taken years — decades! — to drag the hopelessly naive and unaware Tories, kicking and screaming, even to acknowledge tentatively the problems around, for example, gender ideology and critical race theory. And they are plainly terrified of appearing low-status by challenging these terrible ideas openly. “There’s nothing wrong with being woke” is an unusual thing for a Prime Minister committed to passing enabling acts to infiltrate and stamp it out to say.

In fact the Tories’ great failing is their lack of a coherent, thought-through response to identitarian ideology. And it’s the Left (or at least the harebrained middle class part of it) that is “embedded” in corporates and institutions.

Tribune are looking into a mirror and seeing somebody else.

Join the discussion

  • Still, if the “enemy” is as stupid as the Tribune, maybe there’s some hope even for this Tory government

  • Yes, for years they’ve used ‘soft’ power. Critical Theory is the hardening of that power.

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