Thursday, March 4, 2021
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Johnson’s Phoney War on Woke

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IF YOU relied only on the headlines, you might think the ‘Conservative’ Party – following the justified criticism of its leadership’s reluctance even to criticise, never mind condemn, the explosion of intolerance, censoriousness and malign identitarianism which, after festering below the surface for several years, finally exploded into the open amid culturally and racially oikophobic street violence last summer – had finally resolved to tackle the Woke virus.

It now planned, we were recently told, to prevent anti-statue iconoclasm by strengthening the protection of statues from the depredations of town hall militants and Woke-Warriors. We won’t allow people to censor our past, asserted Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick on January 16 – although whether his proposal to make them obtain planning permission and consult the local community before doing so will deter the heritage-destruction fanatics is a moot point.

Not to be outdone in signalling Tory purported anti-Woke credentials, next up was Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, endorsing a ‘Conservative’ backbench MPs’ initiative to spike the town hall Woke-ists’ guns by re-naming the only recently re-named Diversity Grove and Equality Road in Perry Barr, Birmingham, after Victoria Cross recipients.

Then, in what the Government clearly wants to be seen as a major escalation of its ‘War on Woke’, yesterday’s Telegraph reported Dowden as summoning the leading  heritage bodies and charities to a summit at which he intended to entreat them ‘to defend our culture and history from the noisy minority of activists constantly trying to do Britain down’. 

Accompanying that was to be a promise from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson of a ‘Free Speech Champion’, with powers to defend free speech and academic freedom on campuses, accompanied by the warning: ‘Colleges or student bodies that try to cancel, dismiss or demote people over their views will be sanctioned’.  

Now, the re-naming of some Parry Barr thoroughfares after Victoria Cross recipients rather than ‘Diversity’ shibboleths isn’t at all a bad idea per se; but are these kinds of frankly peripheral and trivial political palliatives from Jenrick, Dowden and Williamson really all we can realistically expect from the Tories’ so-called ‘War on Woke’?

Sadly, it might well be. Below the radar, and on several fronts, the ‘Conservative’ Party hierarchy appears to be not merely not opposing, but either passively accepting or even advancing the ‘Liberal’-Left’s pernicious, divisive Woke agenda. Consider a few examples.

Take the issue of the sustained Woke assault on free speech, specifically when manifested via the de-platforming and/or cancel culture widespread among both academic and student bodies on university campuses. Any TCW readers still doubting its extent and severity should listen to the New Culture Forum‘s recent panel discussion podcast, or watch it on YouTube. 

Last month, Tory backbencher David Davis introduced a Private Member’s Bill to place a legal duty on universities to uphold and promote free speech on campus, though it is unlikely to become law owing to ‘lack of Parliamentary time’. Davis is right to address this issue, but why did it have to fall to a private member to introduce legislation to protect and uphold something as fundamental as free speech? Where was the allegedly ‘Conservative’ Government which included in its last election manifesto a commitment to strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities? Was it fearful of incurring the wrath of the Woke Mafia? It’s a poor reflection on the Johnson government’s apparently only lukewarm commitment to free speech.

Moving on to the minefield of gender and trans rights, the ‘Conservative’ Party now appears to be bent on cancelling Women as a species. As victim of the militant trans lobby Maya Forstater explains, the Government’s own Parliamentary Bill covering maternity leave for ministers refers to ‘pregnant persons’. 

Presumably, alternatives to the clearly discriminatory and non-‘inclusive’ expression ‘women’ were rejected on Woke grounds. ‘Persons who menstruate’ must have been ruled out as obviously transphobic in deference to the vicious Woke onslaught on J K Rowling for satirising its use as a substitute. Ironically, the Equality Act 2010, which remains in force, refers to both pregnancy itself and pregnancy discrimination as something which happens to, erm, ‘women’.

Among the most sinister and damaging manifestations of the burgeoning Woke self-righteous intolerance is the expansion of censorship by the partisan hyper-‘liberals’ of Silicon Valley Big Tech. Even as its platforms lean more and more towards overt and shadow banning, much of the Establishment with an interest, genuine or feigned, in promoting the Woke Cult and silencing or demonising opposition to it has been content to outsource censorship to the private sector, thereby creating a tyranny. So it’s curious that, despite the worthy ostensible aim of preventing online harm, the Johnson government is apparently content to partner with Big Tech to regulate online speech even more. Did it occur to Media, Digital and Culture Secretary Dowden that, given its recent track record, Big Tech is likely to exploit the freedom given it by filtering out not only child-pornographic, terrorist and genuinely racist material but also by censoring legitimate conservative opinion and classical-liberal challenge to the Woke-Left agenda? Or is he relaxed about it?  

Finally, the Tory leadership has capitulated to the BBC, abandoning not just abolition of the iniquitous ‘licence fee’, but even the idea of decriminalising non-payment of it, while allowing it to be increased. 

As if sustaining the mainstream media’s foremost propagandist of über-Woke in its regressive, coercive funding model wasn’t bad enough, the Government has additionally favoured the ‘fantastic BBC‘ (© B Johnson) with responsibility for providing online lessons to pupils during lockdown. The result was predictable; it took a concerted backlash from parents to get its ‘there are over 100 genders‘ teaching module withdrawn. Not much evidence of a Tory Government ‘War on Woke’ there.

Divining the reason for the Tories’ apparent reluctance to counter the Woke agenda in any way other than cosmetically is harder than citing examples of it. Over at UnHerd, Ed West quotes former Tory MP Ed Vaizey, part of the Cameroon/Notting Hill metro-‘liberal’ tendency which still holds sway within the party, in enthusiastic support for the Woke agenda. West persuasively suggests that driving this is a naïve gullibility, which fixates on its superficial but bogus claim to be motivated solely by altruism and equity, but is blind to the illiberalism, intolerance and authoritarianism with which it tries to enforce its orthodoxy.            

In the New Culture Forum‘s panel discussion podcast referenced earlier, Professor Jeremy Black of Exeter University posits that there is an argument currently prevailing within Johnson’s government against engaging in any kind of what they call ‘culture war’, the idea being that that’s what characterised Trump, that it was a mistake, and that they, therefore, must not be seen to be emulating it or him. The fact that we’re already in a culture war being prosecuted aggressively by the ‘liberal’-Left and hard-Left Culture Warriors seems to have escaped their notice.                      

Irrespective of the precise cause, its consequence is that, sadly, there seems to be no real political desire to push back against what looks like nothing more than an updated, more malignant mutation of the stock Marxist critique of Western civilisation.

If the ‘Conservative’ Party hierarchy were serious about tackling the Woke virus, they’d be robustly upholding free speech, countering pernicious, divisive Critical Race Theory, Gender Theory and Trans Theory as part of a wider repudiation of identitarian politics generally, and clipping the wings of the BBC, instead of merely changing a few street names and making it slightly harder to pull down ‘problematic’ statues.

But they’re not, and nor do they want to. The Tories’ ‘War on Woke’ is a Phoney War.

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Michael St George
Michael St George is a freelance writer arguing for minimal-state, low-tax, free-markets minarchist-libertarianism. He tweets as @A_Liberty_Rebel. He is @LibertarianRebelon Parler.

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