The goal of the ‘war on woke’ is to make people think that while things are bad, they could be a lot worse if the left was in power
The British historian Alex von Tunzelmann explained to me a few years ago why we are unable to discuss empire without denial and defensiveness. “Empire is still all around us,” she said. “It is still so integral to everything about Britain that we don’t really see it at all.” This lesson can be applied equally to our tendency to deny unpleasant and ubiquitous features of our politics. Ever since the Conservative party threw itself aggressively into a culture war during the Brexit referendum, the effects of this strategy have been constantly minimised. Academic research, polls and media analysis regularly misread the right’s hugely successful strategy, concluding that the culture war is not really taking place at all.
No one seems to have told the Tories. In his speech last week, Boris Johnson issued the standard statements on history and Churchill, throwing in a story on school sports day races that had no winners. Elsewhere, the MP Jake Berry ridiculed “woke-ing from home” and the party chairman, Oliver Dowden, warned leaders of cultural organisations: “Go too woke, risk going broke.”
Nesrine Malik is a Guardian columnist