Focus on culture war shows government far from focusing on the ‘people’s priorities’ - Alexander Brown

I have just got back from Tory conference, a four-day Glastonbury for political nerds filled with speeches and policy debates.

It was an event where the party that has dominated British politics did its best to say absolutely nothing because the state of the opposition means it doesn’t need to.

Conference goers were treated to the equivalent of a reforming band playing nothing but hits, with mentions of Thatcher, being proud of Britain, and the virtues of hard work.

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However, there was one slightly newer single, a free hit that has inexplicably made its way into politics from the culture war and shows no sign of coming out the charts.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers his keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. Picture: PAPrime Minister Boris Johnson delivers his keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. Picture: PA
Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers his keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. Picture: PA

It was attacks on being “woke”, with everyone from backbenchers and the Prime Minister criticising those who had the temerity to understand how their words or actions impact others.

Boris Johnson pointed out the accusations that Winston Churchill was a racist, warning “they” want to “rewrite our national story starting with Egbert the Woke”.

Elsewhere the Tory party chair Oliver Dowden spoke of “woke aggression” and was cheered and applauded after claiming Labour “has got woke running through it like a stick of Brighton rock”.

Former minister Jake Berry added “we have to end the civil service 'woke-ing' from home”, with a joke so bad you can imagine what time in the conference bar it was thought up.

Regardless of what you think of working from home, it has nothing to do with injustice, and given the Labour party’s recent history on antisemitism it’s hardly the pinnacle of equality right now.

The term woke has become entirely meaningless, it’s used to criticise any slightly newer view or attitude that those using the term disagree with.

It is the equivalent of labelling someone a “neoliberal”, for the right.

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This is the great issue with the anti-woke movement, they mistake being more educated on things for attacking them.

They do not see it possible to be thankful for Churchill’s actions during World War II, but also recognise he said deeply racist things, praised using chemical weapons against "uncivilised tribes" and was involved in the Bengal famine.

In the US, woke originally meant being aware of racial inequality, before coming to encompass an awareness of other issues of social inequality.

This can only be a good thing, yet much like the opposition to taking the knee, people remain vehemently opposed to the suggestion things can be better.

This is to be expected from culture warriors, the columnists and social media presences whose existence relies on pretending things like Black Lives Matter are about Marxism.

But its presence in political debate is embarrassing, unhelpful, and stands in the way of progress.

At a time people are struggling for petrol or are suffering food shortages, picking a fight with those wanting structural inequalities to be addressed is unacceptable.

It is a movement no longer able to label its opposition remainers, and needing a new way to invigorate its supporters and shut down its opposition.

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Britain’s past is not all a sense of pride, certain terms and views are outdated, and the country does suffer from structural racism.

Elected officials should be finding solutions, not being snowflakes when asked to do better.

Alexander Brown is a columnist with Scotland on Sunday and Westminster Correspondent with The Scotsman

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