Don’t worry – progressives can win the culture wars – here’s how
TruePublica Editor: For all those people on the centre-left and centre-right in the current political spectrum – life in Britain can appear to be unfolding as some sort of apocalyptic nightmare that is on a trajectory to disaster and darkness. The Boris Johnson government have proved in the Covid-19 crisis without any ambiguity that they are not fit to govern. The entire cabinet is also without proper experience in government, as not one had had more than 14 months in office and as we have seen No10 is now filled with self-serving sycophants and stooges. With a reactive, not proactive Prime Minister, the government have also proved to be dangerous to both public health and the economy – for which our very existence and that of our families depend. It’s what makes so many of us angry. So do the culture wars that their adulators promote, that not only provides them with political cover when needed but also taps directly into our emotions and challenges our values.
Even Steve Baker, the former chairman of the ERG, a group of very right-wing headbangers that believe Brexit could never be hard enough, thinks Boris Johnson it too right-wing and dictatorial for Britain. And now the Tories are infighting once again – over Covid and the economy, power and Brexit, over it seems – anything. But they do have one thing that binds them all – a strategy that got them into power – and keeps them there.
For as long as the Boris Johnson-Dominic Cummings blueprint of power is in motion, it will seek to constantly divide us into the type of warring tribes that sustains its electoral coalition. Nigel Farage teaches us one thing – that culture wars can be extremely successful to get people on side. But the current Tory infighting comes from the fact that this coalition is made up of centre-right and hard-right factions. With an almost religious creed feel – many of them consider their mission to be one of absolutes. They want what they want with no compromise – the complete opposite of what politics is supposed to be.
The Conservatives made a net gain of 48 seats (80 seat majority) in the election last December and won just over 40 per cent of the popular vote – the highest percentage by any party since 1979. It was voted for largely to end the Brexit nightmare. Indeed, it can only maintain its support, made up of traditional Tory voters and Leave voters if it continues with its culture wars – designed to make us join one camp or the other. But don’t forget that Brexit will be done soon (irrespective of the outcomes) and by removing the main reason that this government even exists, the centre of all political discord shifts. One example here is that Red Wall voters ‘lent’ a vote for Brexit – not for their belief that a Tory government really would hand some of London’s vast wealth to people in the north of the country!
Floating voters are the Tories biggest weapon. Their culture wars have dragged centrists – those with normally moderate political views or policies into tribes. Migration, employment, sovereignty and so on were the initial battlegrounds they chose.
Back in the 1960s, about 13% of voters would change which party they voted for, says Dr Jonathan Mellon from Nuffield College, Oxford (source). After the crisis the banks caused in 2008, that was closer to 40% by 2015. In the EU referendum, one-third of all those with an intention to vote were unsure which way to vote. It took an illegal propaganda campaign of some magnitude, immersed in a cultural conflict that dragged Brexit over the line, not a consensus of expert economic modelling and measured reasoning.
For instance, in the 2005 general election, crime was the most important issue facing Britain as far as electors were concerned. In 2010, that was replaced by immigration, which got the Tories into a coalition. In neither election was membership of the EU even inside the big six – the NHS, economy, crime, employment, education and immigration. In 2015, the NHS and immigration were the top two political battlegrounds being fought over, with the economy lagging behind the promise of a referendum. When the banks blew up financial markets, the Tories kicked off their culture wars and blamed not the bankers, but immigrants and a completely baseless story it was over-bearing EU rules and laws that meant Britain’s loss of decision making was the root cause of all our woes, which it wasn’t. Who could forget Theresa May’s fabricated ‘illegal immigrant avoided deportation because of his pet cat‘ story. This was a story steeped in the anti-EU-immigrant-sovereignty narrative. It was a lie designed to anger moderate voters.
All those promises of when we finally take back control, kick out all the immigrants and the sun rises on a ‘global Britain’ have really turned into just another pile of lies before getting there. The wins of Brexit are so few, you can’t mention any of them – the losses are being stacked higher and higher, day after day, as the deception is exposed for what it really is the closer we approach 2021.
But all that is history now. Brexit has been done. All that remains to be seen now is – will this deplorable government do a deal with the EU or with America? And as you have no power over what happens next, your anger will rise and the culture wars will continue to ensure your loyalty to one tribe or the other. In the meantime, this government, who abused the very nature of Britain’s principles of democracy to get to where they are, do not much like democracy at all – and are working hard to dissolve it. There’s a power grab going on whilst the fog of a pandemic battlefront conveniently rages on. They want to dismantle the institutions that uphold Britain’s system of representative democracy, the so-called the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’. While they are doing that, read stories about statues being debated in parliament, the BBC and Ofcom being run by government stooges and experts in cultural battle zones like Laurance Fox starting a political party to ‘reclaim’ British values.
So what should you do if you are feeling more frustrated, more anxious and more distraught?
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First up, you should watch the excellent Netflix documentary ‘The Social Dilemma.’ It goes a long way to explain just how easily we are all dragged into thinking something that we wouldn’t normally think. Social media has now been exposed to have an extraordinary effect on our behaviour, much more than we thought. This documentary from Jeff Orlowski explores how addiction and privacy breaches are features, not bugs, of the social media platforms. In essence – data is not just hoovered up to predict but also to influence our actions, turning us all into easy prey for propagandists. Just realising this much goes a long way in helping us to rationalise things. The documentary makes the point that social media, in all its forms, is a remarkably effective and manipulative technology that has the ability to dig deep into our social lives and beyond. The New York Times concludes – Unplug and run! What this should do is make you think about your principles and values, what is important to you and then stick by those rules – not be manipulated by others.
Secondly, there is context. Take for instance the Suez Crisis in Eygpt, which humiliated the United Kingdom in 1956. Just about the world’s entire diplomacy network got involved. There were anti-war protests, the middle-east was up in arms, Saudi Arabia imposed a total oil embargo on Britain, Russia threatened to bomb Britain and the UN demanded Britain withdraw from Eygpt. When it didn’t, the Soviet threat to send troops to Egypt to fight the Allies led American President Eisenhower to fear that this might be the beginning of World War III. The result was that the ensuing oil embargo cratered the economy, Britain then threatened to invade oil-rich Kuwait, NATO refused to assist Britain and the American’s effectively crashed the British pound which was, at the time, the reserve currency of the world. Back then, 40 per cent of international transactions were conducted in Sterling, today it is about 3 per cent and today the USD is the world’s reserve currency. Suez was very much regarded as the final nail in Britain’s empire and a crushing blow to its international reputation. Put that lot in the context of Brexit, where propagandists convinced a fairly small percentage of the undecided to vote for sovereignty. However painful Brexit will undoubtedly be – we’ll get over it, we’ve been through worse.
Thirdly – it’s about when to engage and what to fight back with. In the Weekly News-Review last week I stated briefly what can reasonably be done. Progressives have been told to rise above it all – but that is actually a losing strategy – Brexit and Boris Johnson becoming PM proved that. You also have to remember that the political left and centre-left don’t have the money or the tools at their disposal, as the establishment itself is right-leaning anyway. With a lot of money comes not just influence, but the weapons of political warfare, the media. And this was shown in the almost universal mainstream media campaign against Jeremy Corbyn. Like JC or not, the establishment said no.
For anyone serious about bringing back power to the centre and getting started on the huge task of healing the nation – it is important not to hit back using nasty culture war tactics, which is exactly what they want – but simply to focus on their actual failures of which there are many. Or even simply being sarcastic in response. This Tory government, their acolytes and followers have become experts at cultural warfare and many people fall into their traps such as identity politics, statues, Rule Brittania, Black Lives Matter, trans-rights – you name it, they are fanning the flames of division.
Don’t forget that the disastrous errors of this government have cost lives and is destroying the economy – both of which are just about the worst outcomes recorded in the world. Their own division is amplified when many of their supposed supporters are out on the streets protesting simply for being asked to wear a mask. Then there is rampant cronyism and corruption, their constant lying and their deceit. And Brexit is a prime example of promises versus reality. By focusing on facts of failure and throwing it back at them – the culture war strategy starts to break down when constant failure stares them back in the face. Don’t be rude, don’t engage in combat, throw their failures at them, there’s plenty of examples to choose from.
Keir Starmer has decided not to fight Brexit, or promise a rejoin campaign, has stamped on accusations of racism and clearly moved to the centre-left – and whether you like that or not, is a clear indication that he has no intention of walking into the culture wars traps. The establishment will not object. Starmer has taken Johnson’s 26 point lead of six months ago and set fire to it by playing a better game. We need to do the same.