“People may be mildly culturally conservative but they want the government to defend their values and history, not actually initiate a culture wars.”
In his characteristically encouraging fashion, Daniel Finkelstein in the Times on 11 May 2021 offered anew the line that is currently frequently repeated in that paper and more generally. It is comforting, but flawed because, in practice, there is a culture war already and one that has been waged with much success by the Left for many years. Indeed, while, nevertheless, election results reflect a range of factors and those who seek to simplify them are always wrong (see much of the discussion of the Brexit referendum), the ability of Labour led by a radical Marxist to win 40 per cent of the vote in 2017 and still 32.1 per cent in 2019 was a testimony to the new-found popularity of what Tony Blair described on Good Morning Britain on 11 May as “a new-fashioned social/cultural message around extreme identity and anti-police politics.”
The question is not whether the Conservatives should initiate a culture war but how far and how best to conduct a defence
Contra Finkelstein, the question is not whether the Conservatives should initiate a culture war but how far and how best to conduct a defence. Inevitably that takes us back to the staple topics of the “spaces” occupied by the BBC, universities, schools and museums, although, in truth, the key locations where beliefs and ideas are developed and articulated are more profound and diurnal: families, relationships, homes, and streets. There is a contrast between the two levels, one in which public spaces are increasingly occupied both by what Blair decried but also by the “softer” ideas that trend in that direction. Books capture this. Today brought bound proofs for Prisoners of Time (Allen Lane) by Sir Christopher Clark FBA, the Regius Professor of History at Cambridge, very much part of the Establishment. A hotchpotch of disparate essays held together by an absence of doubt that suggests conceit, it is open in its views, not least in attacking Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. The last paragraph of the book approvingly cites Macron on Europe is still “our horizon,” while another deploys Pope Francis to argue for the abolition of war. Clark does so from a universalist perspective, but fails adequately to consider the nature of deterrence, the question of how best to respond to aggression, and the more general question of “just war.” And so on.
Arguments can of course be countered, but the trend of and from authority is clear. Contra Finkelstein again, it really is not good enough to suggest that there is some kind of level playing-field. That is simply not the case. Given that we are talking about the situation in powerful bodies in receipt of state funds and that there is the concept of public accountability in this country, maybe the government should ignore brickbats from the predictable and actually ensure a measure of this accountability.
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