Tory MP calls for end to government's 'war on woke'

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·Political Correspondent - Yahoo News UK
·4-min read
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Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson with Nadine Dorries (centre) and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss (right) during a Tory leadership hustings at the Woodlands Event Centre in Wyboston, Bedfordshire.
Boris Johnson with Nadine Dorries and Liz Truss (right) during the Conservative Party leadership election in 2019, at a hustings at the Woodlands Event Centre in Wyboston, Bedfordshire.

A Conservative MP has said the word “woke” is now devoid of meaning – and warned Boris Johnson's government not to stoke culture wars. 

Matt Warman, parliamentary under-secretary of state for digital infrastructure and MP for Boston and Skegness, made the comments at a Tory Party conference event called “Can Anyone Win The Culture Wars?".

“[Woke’] now means so many things to so many different people, it’s becoming an increasingly diverse term that is somewhat devoid of value,” Warman said. 

“And we need more sophisticated, more nuanced ways of talking about this stuff – because, otherwise, we will be trapped into a debate that doesn’t work in the way that we need to. 

“Which isn’t to say ['woke'] doesn’t have some value, of course – but if you’re having a debate where no one knows what some of the words mean then it’s very hard to have a debate where anyone’s really engaged with it.”

Conservative candidate Matt Warman speaks after winning the Boston and Skegness seat at the Peter Paine Performance Centre in Boston.
Matt Warman speaks after winning the Boston and Skegness seat at the Peter Paine Performance Centre in Boston, Lincolnshire.

"Woke" originates from African American vernacular and originally referred to an individual being aware of, and alert to, racism in society. 

However, in recent years it has been used as an overarching term by politicians and political commentators to describe some socially liberal and left-wing attitudes – largely in a pejorative way. 

A YouGov survey carried out in May revealed that 59% of Britons do not know what "woke" means.

The prime minister has been accused of leading an attack on "wokeism" as part of a wider engagement in a so-called culture war.

Also in May, a group of around 40 socially conservative Tory MPs, calling themselves the "Common Sense Group", published an anti-"woke" pamphlet that called on the prime minister to "promote British values, traditions and history". It said a battle against views from the left was "vital to a national rebirth".

Watch: What does woke mean?

On Sunday, Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party chairman, told the conference that a “small but very vocal group” of people see Britain as “dominated by privilege and oppression” adding that "today's Labour Party has got woke running through it like a stick of Brighton rock".

Nadine Dorries, who was recently handed the role of culture secretary, has also been critical of those she describes as "left-wing snowflakes".

Asked in January whether incoming US president Joe Biden was "woke", Johnson replied: “There’s nothing wrong with being woke but what I can tell you is that I think it’s very, very important for everybody to… I certainly put myself in the category of people who believe that it’s important to stick up for your history, your traditions and your values, the things you believe in.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington DC, during his visit to the United States for the United Nations General Assembly. Picture date: Tuesday September 21, 2021.
Boris Johnson refused to say whether he thought US president Joe Biden was woke. (PA Images)

While Warman said he did not believe the government should shy away from such debates, he urged the party to be constructive. 

“It's not the duty of politicians to ramp them up in a way that detracts from other issues,” he warned. 

“You do have a choice to make over, ’how much do you want to add fuel to these particular fires?’”

Warman said culture wars were not as intense in the UK as in America.

“But we need to be careful," he said. 

"We’re all on the same planet, and you shouldn’t rule out the possibility that Britain could become a lot more like other countries.  

“I think the good news is that we are a long way from those sorts of conclusions that we’ve seen in Charlottesville [in the US, where an anti-racism protester was killed in 2017] being the sort of obvious, extreme, and tragic example. 

“So, politicians have a duty to be responsible – but we also have a duty to reflect the concerns that people talk to us about, and the reality is that we do live in a world where more and more people care about these issues, that once would have been regarded in a very, very niche way.”

Watch: 'Nadine Dorries isn't afraid of fanning the culture war flames – leaving the arts sector concerned'

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