Matthew Goodwin in Unherd (11/07/21) asks Can Britain Survive the Woke Wave?
In his article he discusses a major study by American pollster Frank Luntz based on three nationwide surveys and two focus groups. Luntz argues that “post-Brexit Britain is rapidly following America into the abyss of highly polarised culture wars over populism and wokeism.”
However, the first issue is why an American analyst wishes to intervene in British domestic affairs? The case against Luntz is that most British people do not know what “woke” or “wokeism” means. Luntz himself found only 15% are “proud to be woke.”
A YouGov poll found that while nearly 60% of British adults have heard of the term “woke” they have no idea what it refers to.
What it means in USA is not necessarily the same as UK. . For instance whilst, the themes presented around racism are broadly the same (decolonisation, white privilege, unconscious bias etc.) USA has vastly different experiences attached to it compared to the UK.
It is casually said the only thing that Britain and America share is a common language. America has a troubled twentieth century history with racism: segregation, Jim Crow, slavery. It has permeated into the twenty first century with wokeism dividing the nation (Biden democrats vs Trump republicans).
It can be argued Britain’s story revolves more around class than racism. British politics, higher education and jobs were traditionally drawn on these factors. Although, these themes are largely diminished in recent years issues such as home ownership, North/South divide and the gulf in income between the richest and poorest still permeate through society. Disenfranchisement from politics was – until Brexit – a concerning trend. In this sense woke politics has entered through the back door.
British values such as patriotism were traditionally hard wired into education and public consensus – Brexit and Wokeism have amplified the debate on what it now means and created two opposing types of people – something that was not a part of the political landscape before. British values around tolerance and pluralism have also run into trouble with wokeism, in how its proponents do not accept alternate views – see the attack on J K Rowling with LGBT.
Wokeism has been imported into higher education by challenging long standing views on its empire (decolonisation). However, Wokeism, as an American import, has hit some resistance in the UK with the government intervening.
The northern working class who voted for Brexit has resented wokeism for how it ignores white working class poverty – as raised in the Government sponsored research into racism in the UK (which was viciously denounced by some including the Guardian as it did not further their cause).
Matthew Goodwin talks about wokeism is beginning to permeate into everyday life: Love Island on television, adverts, British Olympic team, etc. This was highlighted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival media conference: British media does not represent its audience’s views on woke topics.
The risk is how it is becoming a generational and regional divide – as young metropolitan people are associated with woke issues whilst older working class people are not. A YouGov survey found 63% if 18-24 year olds know what it means and are three times more likely to say it is a good thing.
The worrying trend from America is the fear of challenging its appearance in education and public services for being labelled as variously phobic. This leaves a “silent minority” disenfranchised from services.
British experience of wokeism has taken a number of forms: – footballers taking the knee, the arrival of -GB News, media presence on Sky Sports (anti racism) and adverts jumping on the trend. Yet its real impact is limited to broadsheet newspaper coverage (Guardian vs Telegraph), Labour Party in fighting and the capture of unions, university self censorship of curriculum etc.
Events such as students in Oxford (Rhodes), violence in Bristol (Colston) and London (Churchill) have had limited impact beyond a nationwide review of statues and art. The infiltration of public institutions by Stonewall may now also be hitting a brick wall.
It remains to be seen if wokeism infiltrates secondary school education and public services and in what form.