I won’t be a foot soldier in the woke war


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Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. I have a prediction for England’s first game in the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship tomorrow.

Lord knows what the score will be. I don’t really care. I’m a Welshman, after all. But my prediction is that some English supporters will boo their own side even before a ball has been kicked at Wembley stadium.

The booing will be followed by another section of the crowd applauding. And that’s because the England players will have taken the knee.

They will have shown their support for Black Lives Matter (BLM) and, therefore, they are against racism. So it follows logically that those who boo must be sympathetic to racism.

Pictured: Krzysztof Piatek of Poland points to his respect badge as England take a knee at their FIFA World Cup match

It’s easy to paint a picture of them. Drunken louts with more tattoos than brain cells whose views shame us all. And, yes, they exist. 

We know because we’ve seen them at their most repellent — usually doing their pathetic best to turn peaceful demonstrations into riots.

But there will be many in that stadium who will not boo. Nor will they applaud.

They will have been as horrified as the rest of us at the slow, agonising murder of a black man at the hands of a white policeman in the United States a year ago. 

They will have perfectly good relationships with people who have skin of a different colour. Some will marry them. Some will neither notice the colour difference nor care about it. They believe that we are all the same under the skin.

So why won’t they applaud the knee-takers?

I suspect that many resent being forced to prove that they are decent human beings who don’t have a racist bone in their bodies. They resent having to answer the ‘are you with us or against us?’ challenge. And why should they?

Quite simply because they believe the way they lead their lives answers that question for them. They want to be judged by their deeds and not their words.

There’s something else, too.

They suspect that taking the knee is more about showing support for the organisation behind the gesture than it is about showing respect for people with black skin. 

They do not want to support BLM, a movement with its roots in America whose founders have admitted they want to destroy capitalism and defund the police.

They reject the idea that racism is the only legitimate prism through which we should see the world. They don’t like seeing statues being pulled down, buildings renamed, heroes shamed and feeling they should apologise for having a white skin.

They don’t like being told: if you’re with us you should applaud those who take the knee. If you’re not with us you are a racist. They’re pretty good at spotting virtue signalling when they see it and it makes them very uneasy.

So they don’t applaud and they don’t boo. Instead, they just try to get on with their lives. What makes them uneasy is what they see as extremism.

They don’t want to be foot soldiers in the woke war.

I have a prediction for England's first game in the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship tomorrow

I have a prediction for England’s first game in the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship tomorrow

It has always been in the interests of zealots on both sides of any dispute to remove the option of comfortable conformity or nuanced reflection. Not that we don’t need them.

History offers us many examples of passionate crusaders for whom the cause was so great and so just there could be no compromise.

Slavery is one such case. Votes for women is another. Sending small boys up chimneys or sending gay men to jail yet another. The list is long. And that’s without adding the ultimate crime against humanity: the Holocaust.

For those brave men and women who went into battle to right those monstrous wrongs there was no ‘on the one hand but on the other…’ That’s because the moral imperative was absolute.

In culture wars, things are different — and that’s what we are engaged in today.

It’s hardly the first in our long history. Religion was at the root of culture wars for centuries — sometimes between Catholics and Protestants, sometimes between church and state.

Culture wars can turn into bloody revolution when one side succeeds in destroying the status quo and then sets about replacing it with its own ideology. Its leaders don’t want us to suck our thumbs and quietly ponder the options. They must paint the other side in lurid colours, tempt them into extremes.

That way, the middle ground disappears, which is what they want. It was a tactic perfected by Lenin and those who came after him.

When I was a young man in the 1960s, the culture war in this country was about working-class youngsters rebelling against being told by their elders how to lead their lives. The phrase ‘elders and betters’ was one casualty of that war.

It was a war about personal identity and it was fought on a new battleground.

When William Caxton set up the first printing press in England in the 15th century, he handed the mightiest weapon imaginable to those who challenged the established order.

From then on, they could communicate their ideas far and wide even if it sometimes cost them their lives. Books and newspapers became the new weapons in the war of ideas. My contemporaries in the 1960s used the television and radio studios.

In today’s culture wars there is a weapon far more powerful than we could have even begun to imagine a generation ago. Social media. Without leaving the comfort of their own bedrooms, the woke warriors can spread their messages, issue threats, sometimes even terrorise their targets.

England's defender Declan Rice (left) and England's striker Jack Grealish (right) take a knee ahead of the international friendly football match between England and Romania

England’s defender Declan Rice (left) and England’s striker Jack Grealish (right) take a knee ahead of the international friendly football match between England and Romania

When Donald Trump caused outrage in the United States by urging his followers to march on Congress, he was eventually silenced by being denied access to Twitter and Facebook.

But he was one man. A million voices cannot be silenced in the same way even if there is a will to do so — which there is not.

But where is our own current culture war threatening to take us? The BLM movement seems to be succeeding with its strategy that everything must be adjudicated according to the fundamentalist challenge that you are ‘with us or against us’.

Let’s move from the football stadium to the cricket field. The whole world knows by now that Ollie Robinson has been, in Monty Python language, a very naughty boy. Perhaps more stupid than naughty.

But he was a boy — still in his teens — when he made his crass comments on social media nearly ten years ago. He has apologised unreservedly since then but it did him no good.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), in all its puffed-up pomp, ruled that he should be suspended for the second Test Match against New Zealand. That might very well mean the end of a very promising career. Pretty severe punishment, you may say, for a bit of youthful stupidity.

The most plausible explanation for the craven reaction of the eminent members of the ECB is fear. They have been watching what’s going on in football and they have taken fright. They are scared of the BLM activists. Better destroy the career of a young man than risk the charge of being sympathetic to racism.

It’s pretty hard to prove you are not guilty of a particular mindset. So they did what the zealots sought: they overreacted out of fear. And they have paid a price for it. They have been ridiculed and accused of cowardice.

They have bowed to the self-appointed high priests of wokery. We can only imagine the reaction among certain blazer-wearing MCC members at Lord’s. Man the Long Room! Stand by to repel the pinkos! This is manna from heaven for those they perceive to be the ‘enemy’. Polarisation is the most effective weapon in the woke armoury.

But the great mistake in the war against woke would be to regard every skirmish as a serious threat — especially when they spring from the halls of academe. 

There should have been only one response when members of the middle common room at one of Oxford’s most prestigious colleges voted to remove a photograph of the Queen because ‘for some students depictions of the monarch and the British monarchy represent recent colonial history’. 

That response? Ridicule. Just pat them on the heads and say: don’t be so silly.

More serious is what 150 Oxford dons have done. They have threatened to refuse to teach certain undergraduates. And what have those young people done to deserve such treatment from their academic masters? Nothing. They just happen to be students at another highly respected college, Oriel.

Oriel’s offence is that it has refused, after much debate, to take down the statue of Cecil Rhodes, the Victorian colonialist who made his fortune in Africa and who, as it happens, gave a large part of that fortune to Oxford University.

The correct response from the university authorities might be to tell the dons that if they carry out their blackmail threat, they’ll have to clear off and find work elsewhere. 

But even if they could sack them, it would be a strategic mistake in this particular culture war because they would become martyrs to the cause. The outcome would be more polarisation.

Another front in the culture wars is gender. In simple terms, it’s whether we should have the right to say that a baby born with testicles is biologically male and one born with a vagina is biologically female. If someone chooses to change their identity they have that right but, in the words of Maya Forstater ‘sex is immutable and not to be conflated with gender identity’.

Ms Forstater worked for a respected think tank when she tweeted that indisputable observation. She lost her job because of it. So she took her employers to an employment tribunal and lost there, too. The judge told her that her views were ‘not worthy of respect in a democratic society’.

But she appealed to the Employment Appeals Tribunal (chaired by a High Court judge) and this week she won. The judge ruled, in effect, that what she had said was not ‘transphobic’. Obviously not. Any more than it’s ‘transphobic’ to use the words mother or breast-feeding, which gender extremists want to ban.

It was an important victory for Ms Forstater, but most battles in this culture war will be fought in the court of public opinion rather than in the law courts. And that’s why this week has been so significant.

And the tone was set by the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden when he was asked what he thought of the ECB’s treatment of young Ollie Robinson. It was, he said, ‘over the top’.

What a classically English phrase. We knew exactly what he meant. We could feel our heads nodding in agreement. It was clear and forthright without being challenging or confrontational.

It suggested that he disapproved of Robinson’s stupid remarks but saw no need to destroy his career because of them. He resisted the temptation to go to war with the woke warriors and declare whether he was ‘for us or against us.’

Instead, he was arguing for a sense of proportion. There was no hint of ‘them and us’. Another minister, Gillian Keegan, said taking the knee was ‘creating new divisions’.

As for their boss, it took Boris Johnson all week to allow his views to be known. No.10 said he supports ‘peaceful protest’. Cautious words from a prime minister not exactly noted for holding back.

So here’s a suggestion for the director in charge of television coverage of the match tomorrow. Instead of focusing your cameras on those who boo and on those who applaud, how about focusing them on those who simply observe? I can guarantee they will be in the majority.

They deserve to be recognised — in all our interests.

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