As the cost-of-living catastrophe rages on, the Tories, despite an 80 seat majority, find themselves lurching from crisis to crisis. And whenever the latest scandal hits, Conservative ministers waste no time in stoking up different elements of the ‘culture war’ to provide a distraction.
Such cynical manoeuvres have become a key feature of this government’s survival strategy; a short-sighted ploy to funnel energy and attention onto divisive issues, with which the Tories believe they can appease reactionary backbenchers and gain political ground.
The government’s disastrous handling of the pandemic, followed by a slew of scandals and sleaze surrounding Downing Street, have pushed the Tories further and further down this path.
As anger builds up in the depths of society, and the Conservatives slump and stagnate in the polls, these desperate, myopic attempts to wage a ‘war on woke’ have increasingly ended up backfiring, however, shattering any ‘progressive’ image that the Tories have tried to cultivate over the years.
In 2018, for example, the Tories pledged to ban conversion therapy for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Boris Johnson himself reaffirmed this commitment on several occasions.
Recently, however, with partygate once again dominating headlines, and news that dozens of Downing Street staff – including Johnson and Sunak – are to be fined by the police for attending illegal lockdown parties, the government suddenly reneged on this promise.
According to leaked sources, the Prime Minister, whilst remaining opposed to conversion therapy against LGB individuals, was set to backtrack on plans to ban conversion therapy for trans people.
This scandalous U-turn provoked a fierce backlash. In response, over 120 LGBT groups and organisations withdrew from the government’s upcoming flagship LGBT conference #SafeToBeMe, forcing officials to cancel the event.
This is a major blow to the government’s ‘pinkwashing’ campaign. The Conservatives have invested heavily in presenting themselves as friends of the LGBT community in recent years, effectively attempting to rewrite history in regards to the party’s reactionary position on gay rights.
This latest move, however, immediately drew comparisons to the Thatcher government’s homophobic ‘Section 28’ law, which banned the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities and schools.
The stinking hypocrisy of the Tories is now plain for all to see.
Just two weeks previously, Boris Johnson had praised Tory backbencher Jamie Wallis for coming out as trans, offering the first openly trans MP his full support.
Yet, whilst congratulating Wallis in public, behind the scenes Johnson was busy preparing another attack on trans rights.
The cynicism of these people knows no bounds. Behind all the smiles and rainbow flags, the Tories’ policy – from Thatcher through to Johnson – remains the same: divide and rule.
The Tory government has consistently stirred up anti-trans hysteria over the past few years, as part of their culture war. And this has emboldened reactionary, transphobic elements in society, leading to greater harassment, abuse, and discrimination against trans people.
But this backflipping on the issue of trans rights, rather than strengthening the government, has revealed its internal cracks and weaknesses.
Jamie Wallis was amongst dozens of Tory MPs who publicly attacked Johnson’s government for its conversion therapy U-turn, forcing the Prime Minister to make an embarrassing retreat and announce that he would again reconsider his position on this question.
This is not the first time that the Tories’ attempted culture war has backfired.
Last summer, for example, Tory MPs condemned England football players for taking the knee against racism at the start of matches in the Euros tournament.
When these players were booed by a minority of fans, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Boris Johnson refused to criticise the booing, calling it ‘legitimate protest’.
As the young team began to win, however, Tory ministers spied an opportunity to fly the flag and foment a mood of nationalism, becoming England’s biggest supporters.
When black players faced racist abuse following England’s defeat in the final, leading Tories came to the defence of the players, trying to appear ‘onside’.
Instead, however, they ended up scoring an own goal. Players such as Tyrone Mings directly called out Priti Patel for her role in whipping up racism in the first place. And an invitation for the whole England team to attend an official gathering at Downing Street was surreptitiously declined.
Priti Patel has been a key architect in the culture war. Earlier this year, for example, she helped to promote the Nationalities and Borders Bill: reactionary, racist legislation designed (amongst other things) to repress asylum seekers, and stir up anti-migrant sentiment in the process.
With the onset of the war in Ukraine, however, as part of their jingoistic propaganda, the Tories suddenly wanted to be known as a safe haven for refugees fleeing Putin’s invasion.
Patel suddenly came under immense pressure to undo the bureaucracy around asylum claims, having been pushed by her own backbenchers to ramp up restrictions and ‘take back control’ of Britain’s borders only months earlier.
Johnson’s government, in short, is being thrown from pillar to post by all these turbulent events, heightening splits and fractures in the Tory Party along the way.
At the same time, repeated attempts to divert workers’ anger by whipping up a culture war are consistently failing, as the underlying economic crisis and class questions come to the fore.
Whilst the Tories attempt to divide us, the bosses’ attacks are pushing workers across the board to join forces, move into action, and fight back.
The cost-of-living crisis facing ordinary people, alongside continued cuts to public services and ever-growing wealth for the billionaires, highlights where the real division in society lies: not between women and men, gay and straight, or black and white – but between the exploited and the exploiters; between the vast majority and the super-rich elite; between the working class and the capitalist class.
We must therefore fight the Tories’ culture war with a class war. It is only clear socialist policies – putting people’s needs before the capitalists’ profits – that can cut across the reactionary fear-mongering and bigotry of the ruling class.
The resources clearly exist to provide decent jobs, healthcare, and housing for all. By expropriating the billionaires, and planning production along socialist lines, we could reverse austerity and privatisation; slash NHS waiting lists for all treatments; and ensure safe shelter for everyone.
On the basis of a socialist economic plan, under democratic workers’ control, we could eliminate all poverty and scarcity – and with this, eradicate the material conditions upon which prejudice and oppression breed.
The organised working class, united and mobilised on the basis of a bold socialist programme, can and must stand up to the cynical division of the Tories and the ruling class they represent. This is what we must fight for.