Britain is in the middle of a cost of living crisis – with inflation on course to hit 10% – and the Conservatives are adamant that “anti-woke politics” will be at the forefront of their new leader’s campaign.
Being “too woke” is the new way of saying “political correctness gone mad,” a phrase used by many people back in the day when they felt that their language was being policed.
Cultural politics is often an easy win for the Conservatives. They might not appeal to working-class people on economic policy but they can attempt to gain their vote through an anti-woke stance. Woke values come from a crystal clear day understanding of different cultures and groups, something that can alienate many working-class people.
The working-class are the bedrock of our society. They work hard in their day-to-day jobs in order to make ends meet for themselves and their family.
A lot of working-class people feel that their efforts often go unnoticed by the metropolitan elite, who prefer to talk about identity politics as opposed to directing their efforts towards bridging the class divide. That means, when a politician is ridiculed for their wokeness, it will catch on and spread. Working-class people want to hear things that resonate with them.
Quite often, winning cultural politics can trump genuine economic policy because it is this kind of thing that makes the front pages of newspapers and gets hits on social media. We saw this during Jeremy Corbyn’s political campaign; his economic policies saw very little coverage. Those people are unlikely to be fixated on PMQs or campaign trails so this is what they will inevitably base their vote on.
In my first week of university, I remember being told to declare that I was a strong-minded feminist by one of my flatmates. Talk about an introduction! As it happens, I am now a big believer in feminism and the rights of women but at the time I was a bit taken aback. I had never once discussed feminism at length with anybody.
One of my best friends, who is now teaching, could not even tell a student of his if he strongly believed in feminism or not! Why? Because it was never properly introduced to us in our school or in our working-class social circles. A middle-class upbringing will ordinarily differ vastly to a working-class one.
My later life experiences made me break out of that thought bubble and start to appreciate all different kinds of groups and cultures. University – described by some Right-wing thinkers as a “woke indoctrinator” – really does open up the doors of understanding and generally makes people less ignorant or hateful about different types of people.
However, what people have to remember is that there is a world outside of those university bubbles and champagne socialist houses. In reality, you have a big number of people who have not had the time to meet people from all over the societal stratosphere, or learn about such things. These people are not looking for re-education from their politicians, or university graduates for that matter!
At the same time, you can expect that many questions on the issue of wokeness will be directed towards the newly elected Prime Minister and Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer – so they need to be well prepared! And the overriding topic of discussion to slip through the door of "wokery" is becoming very clear.
The transgender issue is a minefield without an expiry date.
By definition, a person’s sex is defined by the biological anatomy. That means, a woman has a vagina and a man has a penis. On the other hand, a person’s gender is a social construct that ultimately comes about from their own inner feelings and beliefs.
So, does a woman have a penis? A person from the female sex does not have a penis. An answer like this is clear and to the point. It satisfies those who want straight answers while not throwing the trans community under the bus. They are absolutely right to choose their gender as they please, even if they are biologically tethered elsewhere.
There are arguments that some women do have penises but that just will not wash politically at this moment in time. You will end up getting tied up in knots before being mocked as an out-of-touch “wokie”! If that happens, your policies will get lost in the storm of clicks that lament you for not knowing the difference between a man and a woman.
Is a trans-woman a woman? By sex they are still a man, unless they undergo gender reassignment surgery, but by gender they can identify as a woman. In most instances, identification via gender should be absolutely fine although there will of course be some exceptions.
The best way to deal with that would be to give people the option of using them – like LinkedIn does – as opposed to enforcing the measure onto the public. People prefer to feel like they are actively making a decision themselves as opposed to being told what to do. So the Halifax debacle, while absolutely minor, will unnecessarily add fuel to the fire of this issue. The anger is not at pronouns themselves, it is about forcing an ideology onto people.
With all things considered, it seems baffling that trans-people are becoming a key political conversation for the newly elected Tory leaders but the conversation surrounding them will not simply disappear overnight. This is the new culture war. In the past we have had gay people and immigrants at the centre of the fire – now it is the time for a new minority group to feel the sharp end of the media stick.
There are still some legitimate trans debates to be had, though.
Should trans-women be allowed to compete in competitive individual female sporting events? It is primarily a matter for the sporting authorities but trans-women are going to have a biological edge on the people that they are competing against.
Trans-women will not have gone through the rigours of gender reassignment simply to excel in a sporting category but that doesn’t diminish the fact that they may have unfair physical advantages, as we saw with Lia Thomas in competitive swimming.
As Royal Navy Reserve and Tory leadership candidate Penny Mordaunt noted this week: "I am a woman, I am biologically a woman, and if you have been in the Navy or competed physically against men, you understand the biological difference between men and women.”
There have also been concerns expressed about trans-women using female bathrooms. This brings up self-identification: the right to allow an individual to decide whether they are a man or a woman.
Some women are concerned that some burly bloke might chance their arm, claim to identify as a female in order to enter a bathroom, and cause a scene. The real problem here is male idiocy, not genuine trans-women, and there would always be somebody moronic enough to ruin it for the trans community, perhaps even out of spite.
Self-ID relies on the sensible nature of the British public but exploitation of that system is bound to happen – as it does with any system that is in place. So, again, there is absolutely a debate to be had over this particular issue because the safety of women will never not be an important issue – even if the trans community are not directly to blame.
Commentators have brought the issue of a woman’s “safe space” into mind and a woman's need to feel safe is absolutely valid. But a woman’s safe space has been an issue for many years and that has not been down to the trans community – it has been due to the actions of men. Toxic masculinity has fuelled quite dangerous attitudes in many young men and that is certainly something that needs to be looked at.
Trans people will tell you that their lives have their own challenges without being dragged into all of this. That is why the circling vultures could do with treating delicate conversations with care. After all, imagine if your son or daughter became a member of the trans community. What kind of world would you want them to live in?
Those in the trans community are tremendously brave. Going against the mainstream in such a way requires a lot of courage, even if your body is telling you to do such a thing. Society likes to pull difference apart but it really should not. Ask questions, open debate, but remember that real people will be on the end of those pitchforks.
The political reality
This whole discussion around trans-women is a slippery slope for politicians and the Conservatives know that. The easiest way off that slippery slope is to take the Right-wing approach to the matter: men have a penis and women do not. If you are born a man, you are a man. If you are born a woman, you are a woman. A big, fat no to self-ID plans.
Labour would do well to add a bit more nuance to that stance, adding some nuance to the debate, even if Red Wall voters might prefer the black and white nature of the Tories. Starmer needs to know his stuff when it comes to this topic because those baying for his blood will use this as a stick to beat him with. He does not have to be transphobic but he does need to confidently answer the questions that are thrown his way.
At the end of the day, the overriding message that eventually comes through has to be to live and let live. People from both sides need to talk amiably and find solutions. Life is too short for feelings of hatred.