Symptoms dear boy, symptoms as Harold Macmillan might have said. Symptoms of decay are all around. How’s the service from your GP these days ? Have you tried to get a new driving licence from the DVLA ? Are your trains reliable? Can you afford the doubling (or more) in energy prices and heat your home? Can you find an NHS dentist? Can you get the money for COVID tests? Do you have a clue about protecting yourself from the Virus as new variants appear daily and case numbers escalate? Above all who’s in charge and if you find out do you have confidence in that person’s ability to deliver? Not just in politics but everywhere. P&O Ferries anyone?
Those of us who look back over more decades than we care to remember – in my case to when we last had a King – can’t really believe it. It wasn’t all rosy in the past, far from it, and whilst things got better there were also gentle declines all around. Car plants, railway stations, the High Street, the pub network, workplace pensions all declined. But driven by technology and (especially medical science) things really did overall get better. We started to live much longer and much more comfortably. As a child only one room in my home was heated…
Immigration and foreign travel gave us a wider cultural perspective and enriched our lives. The voices of those who opposed diversity were not silenced, but they were in a squalid backwater of their own whilst we embraced Europe and people who were superficially different from us. What was a community changed – more open and less uniform.
Perfect it wasn’t but we did seem to have got over our Empire and found a role in Europe as we’d been urged to do. London became the capital of Europe over a few happy weeks in 2012 when we welcomed the world to the Olympic Games. Then it all started to go badly wrong.
In the past there were class divisions – the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate and all that. But when John Prescott said twenty years ago “We are all middle class now” he did seem to have a point. The class warriors haven’t entirely gone away, but in the meantime we’ve become tribal.
Accepting that it’s a bit of a simplification (high level sociological classifications usually are) but Britains tribes today are not Red and Blue, not Rich and Poor not even Male and Female. They are “Woke” and “Non Woke”. The former include people like me who wear our wokeness with pride. Who wouldn’t want to be seen as “alert to injustice in society, especially racism.” as the OED puts it? Well the other tribe that’s who.
The tribes I identify are close to the American descriptors of “liberal” and “conservative” but the use of “Woke” as a term of abuse is a bit different. The underlying premise is that it is wrong to be “alert to injustice”. This is extremely dangerous. Since I became politically aware back in the early 1960s most of the campaigns I have supported have been against injustice and discrimination, and the narrow protection of privilege. And great progress was made. The “Non Woke” tribe wants to unravel that progress.
To be woke is not to be nationalist – it is to be aware and to recognise McLuhan’s global village is a reality and that the digital world has no borders. We have the potential to be united as never before – nationalism collapses in the face of the communications revolution. But the Non Woke tribe are fearful of this. That’s why flags appear behind the non woke politicians all the time.
Brexit was the definitive expression of Nationalism and the greatest triumph of the Non Woke tribe. The correlation between those who supported leaving the EU and those who criticise the Woke is absolutely precise. History teaches us that the more leaders demonstrate their patriotism with a superfluity of flags and symbols the more they move towards a nationalist dictatorship. Google “Nuremberg Rally” or “Red Square Parade”.
The other crucial thing about a Britain divided into tribes in the way I have described is that there is no movement between the two. Do you actually know any significant Brexiteer who despite all the evidence wants now to return to the EU? And the pro EU politicians like Keir Starmer who now rule out rejoining the Union do so not out of conviction but out of expediency and pragmatism.
The calls for an electoral pact to oppose the Conservatives (I support it) is a call to unite the Woke. The Tories destroyed Farage and the hard Right in politics by almost entirely adopting his politics. They became as anti Woke as he was. The Woke tribe is politically divided and will be destroyed again by a united Conservative party unless we get our act together.