“Those who oppose tyrannical ‘wokeness’ have right on their side, and with sufficient courage and resolve, patriots will prevent the imposition of their poisonous puritanism on us all”.
So wrote Sir John Hayes in “Spalding Today” in his neo-Trumpist call to arms.
Sir John is a leading member of the Common Sense Group of Conservative MPs which, for those who have missed out, is one of the Conservative Party pressure groups that have followed in the footsteps of the European Research Group. Sensing a weak Prime Minister who will blow with the wind, the ‘Common Sense’ Group sets out to promote a ‘traditional Tory view’ on immigration, and to work against ‘the woke agenda’.
“The Common Sense Group (59 Conservative MPs and seven peers) was formed to speak for the silent majority of voters tired of being patronised by elitist bourgeois liberals whenever issues such as immigration or law and order are raised.
“Part of our mission is to ensure that institutional custodians of history and heritage, tasked with safeguarding and celebrating British values, are not coloured by cultural Marxist dogma, colloquially known as the ‘woke agenda’.”
Letter to the Daily Telegraph 11 November 2020
A recent target for the Common Sense Group was Barnardo’s, the childrens’ charity, which has ‘transgressed’ (in their eyes) by publishing a blog post discussing racial inequality and white privilege. A previous outburst was directed at the National Trust, for having the temerity to publicise some of the less savoury aspects of our glorious history. The National Maritime Museum came in for stick for reviewing Nelson’s ‘heroic status’. Yet another howl was provoked by the suggestion that MPs might benefit from a bit of training in ‘unconscious bias’ to address prejudices people may carry unknowingly. This training has been available since 2016 following multiple allegations of racism and sexism in the Commons; obviously no Conservative MP could ever consider him or herself to be in such need.
For those, like me, who have not kept up with the jargon, The Sun quotes the Urban Dictionary definition of the Woke Agenda as:
“Being woke means being aware … knowing what’s going on in the community (related to racism and social injustice).”
As a term, the Urban Dictionary reckons that it has been around for about 80 years. For the Common Sense Group, being aware of racism and social injustice is evidently something to work against.
Quite what a ‘traditional Tory view’ might constitute is more problematic since, at different times, the Conservative party has been home to a wide range of views. Originally, ‘Tory’ described a faction which supported the Jacobite line of succession to the throne, until that view became completely untenable following the Jacobite rising of 1745. Since then, Tory has been a shorthand, or term of abuse (as it derives from an Irish word for a robber), for the Conservative Party. Within living memory, it has included a conservative government under Ted Heath that took us into the European Economic Community, one under Margaret Thatcher that assisted the creation of the Single Market and the current régime that was elected on the slogan ‘get Brexit done’, with the promise of an ‘oven ready deal’. It is also the party of Disraeli’s ‘One Nation Conservatism’, which offered something to all levels of society and which lasted a century, but now appears to be extinct. In this case, the language and values seem to have much more in common with the traditional views of UKIP.
“UKIP believes in allowing our people their traditional rights of freedom of expression, belief, conscience and speech. These rights have been eroded over recent decades by the burgeoning concepts of so-called ‘hate speech’ and ‘hate crime’, driven by the political doctrine of Cultural Marxism, which seeks to close down discussion and alternative views, so that only one extreme left-wing ‘politically correct’ viewpoint is allowed.”
UKIP Policies – Free Speech and Political Correctness
In essence, it appears that you should be allowed to say anything to anyone, no matter how offensive or how likely it may be to provoke or inflame, just as long as those views do not offer an inconvenient view of our own history. Or perhaps so that only one right wing, politically correct mythology is allowed?
To be clear, as we launch ‘Global Britain’, with its ambitions to trade worldwide with our former dominions and colonies, we are to adopt our very own national mythology, with no reference to the way in which others, especially those who have previously been part of the British Empire, might see us. Muttering the lines from Kipling’s ‘Mandalay’ while on a state visit to Myanmar, or threatening to use starvation as a lever on Ireland is perfectly OK.
As in the past, it is absolutely fine to abuse anyone who is ‘not like us’. At different times, this long list has included the Jewish community, ethnic minorities of all kinds, religions of all kinds, the Irish, the Scots, the Gay community. The list can be extended endlessly, just as it was in 1930s Germany. ‘Othering’ is a convenient way to reinforce tribal loyalty – but to an ever more tightly defined and diminishing tribe. In the end, “everyone’s strange but me and thee, and even tha’s a bit odd”.
The idea that there is only one view of history is just a little parochial. To take one example, and hopefully a fairly neutral one, George Washington is regarded in the US as a freedom fighter and a bit of a hero. From a UK point of view, he was a traitor and he would probably have been hanged if he had been caught. Both perspectives are valid. One of the interesting things about history is to compare the different perspectives and to understand why people have those contrasting points of view. It is important, because ‘the national story’ plays an important part in creating our national identity and who we think we are. If we simply learn a string of facts that are essentially a myth, it will leave us with a very skewed understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. It really can be quite useful – and sobering – to appreciate how others see us.
The Common Sense Group claims to have 59 MPs and 7 members of the House of Lords as members, although only about half have been prepared to declare their loyalty in public by signing open letters, like that to the National Trust.
Perhaps the Common Sense Group might have thought a bit more carefully before adopting their name: as Voltaire said “Le sens commun n’est pas si commun” or, if he had spoken today’s lingua franca, “Common sense is not so common”.
Editor’s comment: Conservative voters may also want to ask themselves whether MPs with this regressive agenda are worthy of their vote.