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The so-called ‘culture war’ the Tories want to fight at the next election

Prime Minister Boris Johnson joins a socially distanced lesson during a visit to Bovingdon Primary School in Bovingdon, Hemel Hempstead. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

STEVE ANGLESEY on the disingenuous attempts to turn anti-racism protests into a war on British culture.

Actors Ballard Berkeley (left) and John Cleese in a scene from episode ‘Communication Problems’ of the BBC television sitcom ‘Fawlty Towers’. Photo by Don Smith/Radio Times via Getty Images – Credit: Radio Times via Getty Images

Where were you when you heard culture war had been declared? When do we dig out our culture war shelters? Will our culture war ration books arrive soon?

All these questions and more need answering in the wake of the news that we are at a state of culture war with ourselves, announced (as most things are these days) through the columns of the Daily Telegraph.

‘For far too long, Conservatives have fought shy of our culture wars, hoping they could keep power by winning on the economy. These wars are now, unfortunately, unavoidable,’ wailed Charles Moore, strapping on his tin helmet.

‘Our freedom is under threat from an American-exported culture war,’ booms Madeline Grant, recently romantically linked with the actor, free-thinker and total oddball Laurence Fox.

Talking of oddball Foxes, here comes banished Brexiteer Liam, taking time out from his long search for relevance to warn Telegraph readers about ‘the brutish, rigid and narrowly defined nightmare society that the hard left would have us be’.

And of course there’s the prime minister himself, addressing the issue of structural racism with a paywalled Telegraph column which devoted fewer than a quarter of its 1,000 words to structural racism, droning on instead about an imaginary culture war plot to topple statues of Winston Churchill. Johnson has since placed his commission into structural racism in the hands of No.10 policy unit chief Munira Mirza, who denies that structural racism even exists.

Alas for Mirza and for us all, the disproportionate Covid-19 mortality rates in BAME communities do seem to hint at evidence of the existence of structural racism. But where, beyond the witterings of the Telegraph high table, is conclusive evidence for the existence of culture war in the UK? Literally no-one bar Johnson has talked of throwing statues of Churchill into the sea and the trans rights issues which No.10 seems keen on weaponising are marginal to many voters in a way that, say, Leave vs Remain was not.

Civilised societies have ongoing and occasionally fractious, often campus-led, debates about attitudes to race, sex and history. It is a very different sort of society which attempts to characterise these ongoing debates as revolutionary attempts to subvert, dismantle and replace all we hold dear.

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Or perhaps that has happened already, since Peter Hitchens whispers to his Mail on Sunday readers that in today’s Britain, ‘The Left are already in control of every lever of power and influence.’ You know, apart running from the actual government.

Talking of which, is it any surprise to see them trying on this whole thing for size? ‘Culture war is the last refuge of a scoundrel,’ as Samuel Johnson nearly said, and this lot are already scrabbling for last chances. Election goodwill has been squandered through negligence over coronavirus and arrogance over Dominic Cummings. They are being schooled on policy by a 22-year-old Manchester United forward. Relaunches during which Boris Johnson ‘takes control’ of a problem you might have thought he’d have control of anyway, being prime minister and all that, now happen weekly.

Next they will deliver a no-deal Brexit that polls show the vast majority of people, including Red Wall voters, do not want – one that is likely to make business closures and redundancies more likely and one that would have created supermarket shortages had the government not U-turned on border controls with the EU last week.

No wonder, then, that after a brief dalliance with a national campaign against obesity featuring subsidised bicycles for all, Johnson and Cummings are now seeking to claw back lost ground by building up their straw man of culture war.

Even before the last election there were reports of No.10 polling issues like trans rights to see whether these might rile up some traditional Labour areas even more than Brexit; in the event Red Wall voters’ antipathy towards Jeremy Corbyn, together with their general Brexit fatigue, meant they went unweaponised – until now.

The hope, as Moore hinted to Telegraph readers, is to revive memories of four years ago. ‘A refrain of some Remainers was that there was something shameful about Britain as an independent country, proud of its history. Leave won the 2016 referendum because most voters did not agree,’ he wrote.

So it will be billed as one last battle against the metropolitan elites and ‘campaigning newspapers’ for the right to protect statues under no threat and the right for Major Gowen to say racist words in a 45-year-old episode of Fawlty Towers. Pretty desperate stuff, you might think – not so much clutching at straw men than clutching at straws. But there is another thing to consider. If, as seems increasingly likely, the ultimate culture warrior that is Donald Trump loses his re-election battle in five months’ time, the UK culture war will be quietly declared over and it will be back to the drawing board once again.

What comes then? Subsidised bike, anyone? Cones hotline?

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