Notwithstanding this week’s excitement, millions of Brits are fed up discussing Brexit, Brexit and nothing but Brexit. They want to know when we’re going to address some other important issues. Issues like identity politics. And transgenderism. So-called 'culture war' issues.
If reports are to be believed, No. 10 have been trying to find out what yer-man-on-the-street thinks about these issues ahead of an impending general election. (No. 10 denies this, of course.) From Rachel Sylvester in the Times:
“'According to one insider, Number 10 has been polling “culture war” issues, such as transgender rights, to see whether they can be weaponised against Labour in northern working-class constituencies but this would only reinforce the Tories’ reputation among metropolitan liberals as the “nasty party”.'
Frankly, at this point, who cares about the Tories reputation among 'metropolitan liberals'? If winning is the aim, then polling this sort of thing makes a lot of sense.
Though the ‘nasty party’ faces an uphill struggle in the North when it comes to austerity – their ‘nastiness’ (as defined by metropolitan liberals) could well be an advantage when it comes to the overreach of trans activism. But the Tories need to realise this. Fast.
Let’s not forget it was the Tories who opened up the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act – which, reformed, would make a man henceforth a woman if he fills out a form. This is the sort of deranged thinking that allowed Karen White – a man – to sexually assault female inmates in a women’s prison. And, incidentally, the same sort of thinking that inspires metropolitan liberal journalists to use phrases such as 'her penis' when describing White’s offending organ. In sensible times, an abusive man would have no special claim to our courtesy (regardless of how he identified). But we do not live in sensible times.
As a result of this, many women are politically homeless. A few months ago, for instance, a working-class bisexual lass from the north of England was telling me how she’d been booted out of the Labour party for posting factual memes – e.g. saying 'trans women are men' – on her private Instagram account. Another lesbian lady complained to me that the Corbynistas’ stance on the issue is bringing 'rape culture' into lesbian communities (it’s transphobic, apparently, to say ‘no’ to male bodies).
Some have already reached breaking point. Consider the Labour party’s treatment of Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, when she attempted to honestly consider the cultural and religious motivations of the gangs of men who had sexually abused working class white girls. After that, a lifelong Labour mum of four tells me that she left the party and (in secret) registered as a Tory instead. Others have told me similar things about the Labour party’s anti-Semitism.
Ask people like this 'what kind of regulatory alignment do you think is appropriate in a negotiated deal with the EU?' and – unless they’re a sole trader or something – their eyes glaze over. But ask them whether women have penises or whether it’s Islamophobic to investigate Muslim gangs for sexually abusing working class girls, and you’ll be in the pub for hours. Obviously, this country is sharply divided along pro and anti Brexit lines. But I do think that many are more agnostic on Brexit than is often realised. I suspect that Brexit is often a stand-in for other things that are also neither traditionally left or right.
Of course there’s no denying that 'culture wars' are a dirty, filthy game. They’ve destroyed American television, for one thing (flicking between Fox News and CNN is enough to give you whiplash). But worse, they’re invented by technocrats to entrench division as a means of maintaining power. My pal Samuel Abrams, a brilliant American political scientist, has studied this phenomenon in the US for decades. In his research, Sam has found time and time again that most people are not actually polarised, rather their political choices are. Which makes sense. People vote according to their priorities, based on their only options – the ones in front of them.
Nevertheless, it is obviously politically prudent to ask what makes people tick. And I’m sure No. 10 could find this out if they wanted to.