MPs are to be made to take unconscious bias training. A former Prime Minister of Australia is targeted because he is a social conservative. The British Library links changes to the way it will work to George Floyd’s murder in America. Extinction Rebellion clip the wings of a free press. Senior civil servants declare publicly for Black Lives Matter.
Boris Johnson’s Conservatives have a majority of 80. But the Left’s long march through the institutions seems, if anything, to speed up.
And the Government either won’t do anything about it or doesn’t want to – or both. What’s the point of a Tory Government, a stonking majority and Brexit itself if nothing changes?
That’s the case for the prosection from some on the Right. Should Johnson and his Government be found guilty?
The first thing a fair-minded jury would do is mull the charge sheet above. It would see at once that the incidents and developments above vary in important ways. For example, the Executive does not control the Legislature. So whether to conduct bias training or otherwise is a matter for MPs, not Ministers.
The second course it would take is to try to work out what government should and shouldn’t do. To take another example, Ministerial control of police operations would be alien to the British model of policing by consent, and to a free society.
Third, it would ask those at the top of the Government what they have to say for themselves. The answers ConservativeHome gets when it puts that question, off the record, is a mix of the following.
Downing Street has “limited bandwidth” – i.e: fewer people than it needs. Changing the culture of government is like turning round a supertanker, but it can be done. Look at the change of tone from the BBC’s new Director-General. And there are victories as well as defeats: the corporation backed down over Last Night of the Proms and the Government didn’t over Abbott’s appointment.
But that’s not all that some of our sources will say when they’re being candid. They say that the Prime Minister moves slowly not just for reasons of political calculation, but because he’s internally conflicted. His upbringing, attitudes and reflexes are liberal as well as conservative. So he moves cautiously – being slower out of traps to champion the singing of Rule Britannia, as it happens, than did Keir Starmer.
You, ladies and gentlemen of the conservative jury, will reach your own verdict – or, if you’re sensible, conclude that putting the Government on a trial after it has had less than a year in office is premature. Nonetheless, here’s our provisional take.
Johnson is denounced by much of the Remain-flavoured Left as a British Trumpian Bannonite – a misreading which helps to explain why he keeps on winning. He is right not to declare a culture war from Downing Street. The British people aren’t in our view enthusiasts for wars of any kind.
But if you think about it for a moment, you’ll see that one of the reasons he doesn’t need to declare such a war is that is already being fought. The noisiest and nastiest parts of it tend to be where race, sex and religion are contested.
Those in the front line aren’t necessarily conservatives, let alone Conservatives. They include J.K.Rowling as well as Katherine Birbalsingh (who’s being interviewed live by Mark Wallace this week ; Germaine Greer as well as Nigel Biggar.
That they and others are in the hottest parts of the action may explain why, to large parts of the conservative movement, the real heroes of our time are private citizens rather than public ones. Consider the case of Jordan Peterson.
Some will say that the Conservative Party, and the centre-right more broadly, is divided about this cultural struggle, citing such telltale signs as Matt Hancock deliberately declaring “Black Lives Matter” at a Government Coronavirus press conference, or Grant Shapps declaring that he’d check Abbott’s record before going for a drink with him.
We think this is an over-complication. Sure, conservatives won’t always agree about culture any more than they will about economics. That’s why, inter alia, the flavour of David Cameron’s Downing Street was different from that of Johnson’s. Near the top, there were fewer northern accents, more women, and fewer “weirdos and misfits”.
But we suspect that if Tory MPs were surveyed, the following attitudes would be found. Support for equality of opportunity, or as close as one can get to it, rather than equality of outcome. Much less backing for abortion on demand than on the Labour benches. Much more for the free market being a friend of the environment, not an enemy. Caution on reforming the Gender Recognition Act. Agreement that real diversity must include a diversity of viewpoints. Disagreement that poor working-class white people have a race privilege. Poll them and prove us wrong.
In other words, Conservative MPs are more likely to share the patriotic instincts of most voters than Labour ones. If you doubt it, ask yourself why Starmer is so anxious to present as Labour a patriotic party; why he was quicker than Johnson in coming out for Rule Britannia, and why – we read – his team want to present him as a very British hero who led in prosecuting an Islamist bomb plot. That’s solid ground for the Prime Minister to have beneath him
So while these are early days, we say that just because a Tory Government can’t – and shouldn’t – do everything, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t do something. For example, there is a Minister for the Civil Service. He is no less senior a figure than the Prime Minister himself.
So it’s up to Johnson to ensure that senior civil servants don’t promote, in practice if not in theory, causes that are outside any reasonable reading of its code – such as Black Lives Matter which, on any impartial reading, is tainted by anti-white dogma. (Which doesn’t for a moment preclude following-up on Theresa May’s observation that “if you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white”.)
Cultural change isn’t driven by governments, and thank goodness for that. Over time, those that have transformed human lives most are the products of human invention (railways; the pill; vaccines) or conviction (the Abrahamic religions; the Enlightenment; secular humanism – or, talking of black lives mattering, America’s civil war.
But though the role of government should be limited, it is real, and modern Britain will always be more than just a market with a flag on top. Governments propose laws, present manifestos, fund public services, make arguments – just as Johnson’s pre-election one did for delivering Brexit. And, talking of Extinction Rebellion, set the framework for policing policy.
We’d like to see the Prime Minister speak more swiftly when what Neil O’Brien calls the New Puritans – i.e: the legions of the woke – try to silence their opponents. And ensure that the Government keeps them out of what government does. Were Cummings and co to reduce its size and scope, that task would become just a bit easier.