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Wake up and smell the free country

Chris Bryant’s absurd rhetoric deepens cultural divisions in one of the most tolerant countries on earth

Artillery Row

Chris Bryant is being ridiculous. The Member of Parliament for Rhondda claims he feels, as a gay man, less safe than he has for the past 30 years, thanks to the culture war being waged by Number 10, Downing Street.

Anybody who wants to talk first is held responsible for creating tension

Bryant is dealing in two falsehoods. One is that this country is intolerant of gay and bisexual people, as well as other minority groups. The other is that this government somehow manufactured the awful culture war we are stuck with at the moment, together with the working class cultural conservatives who propelled the government to power.

We are increasingly seeing this kind of behaviour from even supposedly moderate figures on the British centre left. As loud and destructive activists, with no political mandate but massive cultural and institutional heft, try to impose their narrow identitarian ideology upon us, we are then told that anybody who goes, “whoa, hold on a moment, we need to talk about this first” is somehow responsible for creating the tension and discontent.

Women are being cancelled and abused, for having the temerity to stand up for their sex based rights. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are traduced and sacked for not being willing to promulgate activist ideas. Black people face racial abuse for being sceptical of, and refusing to advocate, Critical Race Theory. This is not ordinary voters doing this. This is not the Conservative Party doing this. This is the work of the people — the campaigners, ideologues and trolls — Chris Bryant appears to be, if not conspicuously advocating, then providing cover for.

Bryant looked quite distressed in his interview with Nick Robinson: a charitable interpretation would be that he’s genuinely frightened; a cynic might say that’s he’s camping it up. He’s clearly a clever man, which makes the idea he believes what he is saying even more troubling. It was absurd rhetoric, of the type we’ve all become far too used to.

Perhaps he’ll flee the country. It’s the only logical choice

Perhaps he’ll flee the country. It’s the only logical choice, for someone who suddenly finds himself besieged by the homophobia and hatred which obviously, definitely, stalks Whitehall, and, I am sure, his seat in Wales. Perhaps he could head to, I don’t know… Ecuador. I know nothing about Ecuador, but it’s bound to be better than horrible Brexit Britain, which is clearly the hotbed of bigotry he seems to think, rather than — as every single piece of data suggests — one of the most tolerant countries in the world.

We are, frankly, lucky to live here. In this country, we all enjoy a vast array of rights and protections. In this country, you are allowed to live the life that suits you. Most people — ordinary, working people — are really nice.

The exception to this is a certain type of white, wealthy, middle-class progressive. They are, curiously, the people who have arguably got the best deal of all, but they’re also the loudest voices in pushing the most divisive cultural theories. They are often clustered in our cultural institutions — ivory towers from which they can gaze out at their imagined vision of a snarling populace, and pretend what the British people need is some really aggressive and inappropriate activism to jolt them out of their knuckle-dragging meanness. “Be kind,” they’ll say. The subtext generally being: “Or else…

We live in a post-Equality society, where some rights are prioritised

For people without this institutional power, the only recourse they have is the ballot box. The Tories were elected to restore some balance to our cultural life, to tilt it away from militant SJWs and return it to the Average Joe. It is (for various reasons, including the cold hard electoral reality that it holds their coalition of voters together) important they do this.

It’s a great pity more on the left won’t come on board with this cultural rebalance, too. It is good for all of us when we have a contented culture, a public sphere we can all operate in. It is not necessary for the atmosphere to be so polarised. These are not, or shouldn’t be, right- and left-wing issues. It doesn’t help when we can’t have proper discussions, and can’t all be represented. It also doesn’t help when people use inaccurate hyperbole to pretend things are much worse than they are. Chris Bryant, and others in position of power using his kind of rhetoric, should reflect on whether what they’re saying is true, or a self-indulgence.

We live in a post-Equality society. Equality under the law is precious and important — but a subset of activists are not satisfied. Instead they want to prioritise the rights of some over others. They don’t want to debate, but to dominate. Perhaps this is happening because Stonewall and other campaigners have outlived their original missions. New fires must be created, so they can be put out. The business has to be sustained.

Ordinary people have had enough of the anger, the aggression, the gas-lighting and the cry-bullying. It’s time for our cultural spaces to recommit to what it means to be equal.

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