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  • Writer's pictureFarah Benis

The War on Woke: A Divisive Election Tactic

In the lead-up to the upcoming elections, the Conservative Party, alongside the Reform Party led by Nigel Farage, has increasingly focused on cultural issues, often referred to as the "war on woke." While this strategy is intended to galvanise their core supporters, it raises significant questions about its effectiveness and the potential backlash from the general public.

What Does "Woke" Actually Mean?

Amidst a landscape of social media videos showing angry right-wing mobs often left silenced and stammering when confronted with the real definition of "woke," it's crucial to clarify what this term means. Originally, "woke" emerged from African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and was popularised as a call to stay alert to social injustices, particularly racial inequality. Being "woke" means being aware of and actively attentive to important societal issues such as systemic racism, social inequality, and discrimination. It's a call for greater awareness and engagement in social justice causes.

However, over time, the term has been co-opted and politicised, often being used pejoratively by some right-wing groups to describe what they see as excessive political correctness or progressive overreach. This divergence in understanding has led to a polarised landscape where the term is both a badge of honour and a target for derision.

The Conservative Strategy: A Tactical Move or Desperation?

It's surprising that it has taken this long for the Conservatives to fully engage in the "war on woke." Twelve days into an election campaign—and lagging woefully in the polls—the U.K.’s Conservatives are leaning into the culture wars. This tactic seems to be a calculated move to resonate with their core demographic and create challenges for the Labour Party. However, it's important to recognise that this focus on cultural issues is primarily an election strategy. It aims to distract from more pressing issues and mobilize the base by appealing to their cultural sensibilities.

In an announcement aimed at dominating the headlines in the campaign for July's general election, Rishi Sunak’s Tories promised Monday that they would overhaul Britain’s equalities law to better protect single-sex spaces. The Conservatives want to tweak the Equality Act—a signature achievement of the last Labour government - so that sex is defined only as someone’s biological sex, meaning the sex people are born as, rather than the one they either identify with or have legally changed to on their birth certificate.

Public Opinion: Woke Issues vs. Real Concerns

Despite the fervour with which conservative leaders push the "war on woke," public opinion tells a different story. Polls consistently show that the issues most important to voters are the cost of living, housing, and the health service. Cultural debates, often seen as abstract and distant from daily concerns, do not rank highly on the list of voter priorities.

Using public opinion experiments, polling data, and focus group conversations, it becomes clear that voters want a campaign centred on their everyday concerns. These insights suggest that the electorate is more interested in solutions to tangible problems rather than abstract cultural debates.

Risks of the Culture War Tactics

There is a very real risk that using culture wars as an election strategy will backfire. When political parties play the culture war card, they often speak to political activists and their core base rather than the general public or undecided voters. This approach can come across as inauthentic and manipulative. Many voters are cynical about politicians exploiting cultural issues for political gain and view such tactics as a sign of weakness and desperation.

Culture wars emerge when issues are trivialised or weaponised, focusing on imagined or imported problems rather than addressing real concerns. Debates about banning drag shows or renaming infrastructure, for instance, are framed in a deliberately incendiary way to create divisions rather than finding solutions. This approach does not resonate with voters and fails to address the significant issues at stake.

Voter Expectations: Real Issues, Real Solutions

The public expects reasoned and passionate debates about major issues affecting the country's future, rooted in their daily experiences. They don't want imagined problems to dominate an election campaign about the country's future. Labelling every disagreement as a "culture war" is unhelpful and distracts from meaningful discussions.

The message from the public is clear: they want difficult issues discussed in a way that points to solutions and genuinely informs them. Campaign activities should focus on the issues that matter most to people's day-to-day lives.

The Return of Nigel Farage

Adding to the cesspit of the current political landscape, Nigel Farage has announced his return as the leader of Reform UK, with plans to stand for election on July 4th. Farage, who has had multiple unsuccessful political forays in the past, aims to lead a "political revolt" against the status quo. Expect more headline-grabbing empty fodder in the weeks to come.

The "war on woke" may generate headlines and energise a segment of the electorate, but it risks alienating the broader public who prioritise tangible issues over cultural debates. As the election campaign unfolds, it remains to be seen whether this strategy will pay off or backfire, highlighting the importance of focusing on the real concerns that voters care about most. Understanding and accurately defining "woke" is essential in these discussions, as it underscores the significance of addressing genuine social issues rather than engaging in divisive rhetoric.


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