Who does Keir think he’s kidding?
The culture war is very real. Labour’s just on the wrong side of it.
Culture war? What culture war? That was essentially the message of Labour leader Keir Starmer’s speech yesterday, in which he took aim at the Tories for becoming ‘tangled up in culture wars of their own making’. Starmer also leapt to the defence of the National Trust and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), two institutions that, he claimed, have been caught in the vortex of the Conservatives’ ‘weird’ and ‘McCarthyite’ campaign against anyone or anything they deem to be ‘woke’. ‘It’s desperate. It’s divisive. It’s damaging’, Starmer warbled.
It was a strange intervention for a number of reasons. Firstly, because you’d have to be a pretty seasoned spectator of the culture war to even know what Starmer was talking about. The woke turn of the National Trust – while bizarre and deeply revealing about the vulnerability of even small-c conservative institutions to identitarian takeovers – isn’t exactly well known. As for the RNLI, the aforementioned ‘Tory war’ on it seems to amount to a couple of Daily Mail articles in which a couple of anonymous Tory MPs grumbled about the lifeboat charity becoming a ‘taxi service’ for migrants.
More importantly, it’s hard to work out why Starmer is talking about the culture war in public at all, given he is so obviously on the wrong side of it in terms of public opinion. From race to gender to – if we must – the National Trust, Starmer is once again making clear he is on the side of those who think we should obsess over ‘race’ and ‘privilege’, permanently repent for our past and let men (sorry, women with penises) into the women’s bogs. Starmer has been gifted an obscene polling lead due to the implosion of the Tories. Yet he seems to relish every opportunity to remind us that Labour is – in many respects – even more dreadful than its opponents.
Perhaps Starmer really does believe what he’s saying. After all, denying that the culture war exists – insisting it is just an invention of the Tories to distract from their myriad failures – has become the high-status opinion du jour on the midwit centre-left, frequently dispensed by people who are either dim, delusional or both. But we really shouldn’t let him get away with it. What Starmer and Co smugly dismiss as ‘Tory culture wars’ is a very real clash over values that has very real consequences for ordinary people.
The rise of cancel culture and the erosion of free speech might mean little to those – like Starmer – who enjoy wealth and status and have never entertained an interesting thought. But it is a huge threat to ordinary people, for whom one ill-taken comment can now mean the sack or a visit from the police. The battle over trans activism preoccupies us like no other ‘culture war’ issue, precisely because it is so important. This is about child safeguarding, women’s sex-based rights and our own collective sanity – all of which are threatened by the march of extreme gender ideology. What about the female inmates who have been sexually assaulted because some deranged prison officer decided that ‘affirming’ the ‘gender identity’ of a male rapist was more important? Did the Tories make all that up, Keir?
In a funny sort of way, Starmer’s cancel-culture denialism lets the Tories off the hook. After all, the erosion of free speech and sex-based rights and the capture of one institution after another by divisive identitarian ideology has happened, in large part, on the Conservatives’ watch, often with their express approval. Theresa May was trying to push through ‘gender self-ID’ laws long before it was cool. Last year, she declared herself to be ‘woke and proud’. That a few Tories have finally cottoned on to the scourge of wokeness, just as they are about to face electoral oblivion and can’t do much about it, hardly makes them hardened culture warriors. Many of them have been willing, gleeful participants in the mini cultural revolution that has been engulfing British life.
I’ll tell you what’s ‘desperate’, ‘divisive’ and ‘damaging’, Keir – an establishment that has shredded women’s rights, institutionalised censorship and ushered in an ugly racial identity politics, all while whistling and saying ‘nothing to see here’. The culture war is real. You know it. We know it. And we won’t put up with the gaslighting anymore.
Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_
Picture by: Getty.
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