“The Government is more interested in cracking down than levelling up.”
The latest Queen’s Speech was a reminder that theGovernment is more interested in cracking down than levelling up. The 31 bills announced this year laid out a clear anti-democratic agenda, building on some of the similarly authoritarian legislation brought forwards in the last Parliament: voter suppression, strong arming student societies, cracking down on protest and looking to shore up their grip on power.
They sent a clear message that Boris Johnson’s Government is more interested in centralising wealth and power, whilst stoking the divisions they exploited to gain power in the first place.
We need to understand that the erosions of civil liberties come from a place of anxiety as well as strength. The Tories are terrified firstly by the immediate threat of a growing groups of social discontents after a decade of vicious austerity,secondly by the long-term demographic challenge they face as a party deserted by young people and thirdly by the evident lack of a plan for dealing with these things.
Hence, they’ve fallen back on their favourite tried and tested tactic: divide and rule. Faced with a resurgent Tory Party that openly boasts about prosecuting a ‘war on woke’, Labour can’t sit on the fence or, worse still, elect to take part in it. Some Labour grandees seem to have missed a fundamental point: the more ground we cede to the Tories, the more they win.
The very framing of culture war carries the implication that the issues discussed under its aegis somehow float free from material reality, as if trans people aren’t subject to disproportionate levels of poverty, violence and homelessness, or as if the Black Lives Matter movement wasn’t a response to the actual racism experienced by Black people in Britain.
Our 2017 General Election campaign was by far the best answer we’ve had to a collapsing vote share and the undiluted social conservatism the Tories have adopted in the wake of Brexit. By talking about the material issues facing people in our country, we were able to short-circuit the Brexit debate and get a fresh hearing.
Ultimately, the culture war is just one front of the wider Tory war on working class people and the few against the many. Rather than pandering to the imagined prejudices of Red Wall voters and taking the culture war on its own terms, Labour needs to find a new way of talking about these issues that centres the idea of social solidarity and strengthens the bonds between class and race.
- This article is part of Labour Outlook‘s special 8 page Summer Update produced for the June 26 demonstrations against the Tories. Read & download at https://labouroutlook.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Labour-Outlook-june-2021.pdf
- Bell Ribeiro-Addy is MP for Streatham, co-chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs & a monthly columnist for Labour Outlook