On Monday, The Times revealed news that won’t exactly delight Conservatives. Having voted for Boris Johnson under the assumption that his party would stand up to cancel culture, wokeness and all things far-Left, they will be astounded to know that the House of Commons is reportedly piloting “unconscious bias training” for MPs.
Though this training has been offered to Commons staff since 2016, it is the first time it has been extended in such a manner. The move has come about partly as a result of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, as well as the experiences of parliamentary staff. According to research by Parlireach, employees from ethnic minority backgrounds were more likely to be challenged to show their security passes, among other discriminatory incidents.
While these injustices must, of course, be fixed, it is the “unconscious bias training” solution that a lot of the electorate will take issue with. Numerous articles have been written about how pseudoscientific the method is. But the worst bit is the basic premise; it assumes that racism and other prejudices sit deep within people’s minds, and need to be exorcised with the help of an educator.
Are we okay with our MPs undertaking this? What does this say if they are happy to go along with it? Personally I think unconscious bias training is prejudiced in itself (“white people have the same bad thoughts”), oxymoronic (how can you train the unconscious?), and ultimately sounds like something out of Salem (“let’s get the devil out of you!”). Yet the industry is now worth $8 billion.
Sadly, the emergence of unconscious bias training is not an isolated phenomenon; it fits into a wider trend that is troubling the silent majority, who will see this latest development as yet another example of Conservatives/ the mainstream, even, losing the culture war. Yes, the Tories repeatedly win elections, but Britain remains plagued by woke ideology, which seems to grow in prevalence each day.
The most recent example of this came from a somewhat predictable place – the BBC, which decided to scrap the words from Land of Hope and Glory and Rule, Britannia! in favour of orchestral music after the lyrics were deemed problematic. It has since u-turned on this decision, but only after a great amount of backlash. You almost had to pinch yourself that we reached that situation, and that the change of heart was some sort of victory.
As if that wasn’t barmy enough, the British Library (BL) is also going through a woke revolution. A number of people, including – worryingly – its chief librarian, have decided that this institution needs a “major cultural change”. Reforms have been proposed by a “Decolonising Working Group”, which says that the BL building is an “imperialism symbol” because it resembles a battleship.
Who knows what’s next… Will activists “dismantle” the BL in the same way they want to “dismantle” patriarchy and other vague sociological constructs? Not to give any ideas, but perhaps the scene of it coming down might finally make politicians wake up and realise how serious the threat they are facing is. Woke ideology has been accelerated through lockdown, and it is not going away.
One is not naive, incidentally, about injustices in the world. It is far from perfect, and the battles for racial and gender equality, among others, are not won yet. It would be foolish to dismiss these, and pretend that things are fine. Clearly they aren’t.
But we have reached a state in which intolerance masquerading as tolerance has become increasingly dangerous. We live in a society where students and professors are afraid at universities because of having right-leaning political views; where people can’t get work in the arts for the same reason, and where Netflix shows as innocuous as The Mighty Boosh are eradicated because someone’s now suddenly offended.
The standards of morality seem to shift all the time; for activists, nothing is ever enough as they look for 2020’s blasphemers. Sometimes they claim that cancel culture is exaggerated, or a myth, but only because they are doing the cancelling – and never on the receiving end.
In all this, many voters are asking themselves one question, and that is: where are the Conservatives? Busy, of course, with the pandemic, but more than ever the electorate is needing reassurances that they’re safe; not next to be cancelled.
Ministers have made small steps towards sticking up for not so much ‘conservative’, but mainstream values. Gavin Williamson, for instance, has encouraged universities to defend free speech through financial incentives, and the BBC has its new Director General who wants more plurality of opinion.
And yet, the recent scenes of statue toppling have not exactly inspired confidence. MPs were too quiet on the matter, perhaps scared of putting a foot wrong. They should have taken some lessons from Emmanuel Macron, who took charge when France experienced BLM protests, making a televised address that struck an important balance.
There, he acknowledged that someone’s “address, name, colour of skin” can reduce their chances of success in French society and promised to be “uncompromising in the face of racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination”. At the same time, he said the fight against racism had been distorted when it became exploited by “separatists”, and that “the republic will not erase any trace, or any name, from its history.”
The Prime Minister has spoken out against woke ideology – last week he said of the BBC Proms’ decision that Britain must stop “this general bout of self-recrimination and wetness” – but I can’t help feeling it lacked the command of Macron’s address.
Where do ministers begin at fighting back? Perhaps it is Michael Gove, Chancellor Duchy of Lancaster, who will have to lead this charge. He has already criticised “group think” in the civil service, warning that a “metropolitan” outlook of decision-makers had led to a government that was “estranged” from the people.
Or it might be that Dominic Cummings – ever in touch with public opinion – who will make a difference as he reforms the civil service, as with Munira Mirza, Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit, who has written for distinctly “unwoke” publications, such as spiked.
It may also be the case that MPs like Joy Morrissey, who has stood up for free speech, Ben Bradley, who has fought back in the culture wars, and Neil O’Brien, who has also done this – recently criticising unconscious bias training – get pushed more towards the centre stage.
I suspect that deep down, the answer to all this wokeness (call it that, or whatever you like), is courage. Tories simply need to get much more vocal about their own convictions; the more speak up against this ideology, the better. Saying no to unconscious bias training is a good place to start.