I doubt that the Equalities minister, Liz Truss, and I would agree on much if we were ever to meet, but credit where it’s due: her speech yesterday challenging some of the sacred precepts of liberalism and taking a well-aimed swipe at its most militant proselytisers was, in this day and age, almost revolutionary.
Truss argued that, while there is a moral and practical case for equality, the agenda is driven too much by identity politics and not enough by factors such as socio-economic status or geographical disparities. The focus on identity, she argued, has meant that those with ‘protected characteristics’ are often looked upon as members of homogenous groups rather than as individuals, while the inattention to social, economic and geographical inequalities means that the challenges facing some of our most disadvantaged fellow citizens are ignored.
Truss was right. In dividing people into discrete groups on the basis of race, religion or sexuality, and emphasising their separateness from everyone else — almost as if their individual characteristics were virtuous in themselves and worthy of special treatment — the whole creed of identity politics is intensely divisive.
Where Truss was wrong was in claiming that all this stuff is exclusively the fault of the Left. It is certainly true that the Left has been the main driver of the descent into identity politics, but Truss would do well to accept that the Tories themselves have their own thriving liberal-progressive wing which has all too enthusiastically embraced it. And let’s not forget who has been running the country for the past decade, during which the whole phenomenon has become so pervasive.
Truss’s message will, though, resonate in the very communities she highlighted in her speech — the ones suffering from an acute lack of money and opportunity but whose tribulations seem to be secondary in the minds of those who are constantly looking for victims elsewhere. These are the type of places the Tories snatched from Labour in great number at the last election. The people who inhabit them have little time for identity politics, and are sick of woke culture in general and the moral hectoring that comes with it. They would prefer their political representatives to focus on the bread-and-butter issues that stress them in their everyday lives: jobs, wages, housing, crime, and so on.
That’s why a Labour party that was as determined as it claims to win back the hearts and minds of voters in these communities would avoid attacking Truss’s comments. It might even be really bold and openly welcome them. But mired as the party is in the very ideology that was Truss’s target, it’s impossible to imagine such a thing. And while that remains the case, these places will continue to see the equalities minister and her party as more cognisant of their grievances and thereby more worthy of their support.