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Values, Voice and Vin Blanc
The new elite has a free hand to impose unwanted policies on us. We need to escape our screens and debate these issues face to face, says Mo Lovatt. PLUS media appearances and forthcoming events.
The Culture War has been raging for several years now. And, these days, when I’m doing my late-night doom-scroll on Twitter, I often find myself scrolling past the numerous tweets about gender pronouns, white privilege and yet another campus cancellation with a sigh of near-resignation. Social media can seem like such an outrage factory that I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it all a bit divisive and unproductive.
But, the other day, I found myself having a real-world moment of outrage. I was on my way home from a meeting of Newcastle Politics in Pubs, having just enjoyed a fantastic evening of conversation over a glass of wine or two (or three), when this thought struck me: how dare they? How dare the authorities impose Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) on our streets, critical race theory on our kids, DEI training in our places of work - all without any kind of democratic consultation at all.
This raises the question: beyond ranting on social media, what are we going to do about it?
The premise of Politics in Pubs may seem like a simple one: a group of people, from across the political spectrum, coming together to discuss political issues that are important to them. And, in a different era, this might not seem so noteworthy. But, in today’s climate, it’s more important than ever. It’s all very well raging at the number of regressive policies being imposed upon us from the comfort of our sofa, behind iPhones and Macs, but it’s no substitute for live debate.
Being together with a group of people, ‘in the flesh’, talking about the implications of these trends and their material effects on the way we live our lives, really struck a chord with me. It reminded me that there are many people out there who feel just like me: politically homeless, infuriated with the sheer number of policies being imposed from above, and frustrated at how we no longer have a say in the changes that affect our lives.
This lack of ‘voice’ is part of Matthew Goodwin’s thesis in his new book Values, Voice and Virtue: The New British Politics. In it he argues: ‘While the voice of the new elite has been put on steroids, blaring out to the rest of the country through a megaphone, the voice of the wider majority has been marginalised if not completely removed.’ The news that Radio 4’s Today programme has lost 1.2 million listeners in the space of a year speaks to this disparity between who is speaking and who is listening. And, whether you agree with Goodwin’s thesis or not, it’s clear he’s hit a nerve. The book very quickly made No.2 on the Sunday Times Bestseller list and the unhinged reaction to it on social media (by the new elite) was perhaps even more revealing than the book itself!
Goodwin expounded his thesis this week as one of many speakers who took part in the National Conservatism Conference in central London. This was another event which caused a near-hysterical reaction on Twitter. Our legacy media was little better. Instead of genuinely engaging with some different ideas for tackling the challenges of our current moment, the coverage was characteristically dismissive or downright alarmist, as brilliantly observed by Konstantin Kisin in his Substack piece, Lies, Damned Lies and Media Coverage – reflections on NatCon.
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I’m not about to run off and become a NatCon, but I do recommend listening to some of the speeches that are now available on YouTube. Although they may not have found the solution to the malaise in twenty-first-century British society, they do at least identify some of the problems – unlike the News Agents of the new elite - Maitlis, Sopel and Goodall - who scoff at the mere suggestion that any of us think about the world in a different way to them.
In particular, I would recommend Frank Furedi’s The War Against National Belonging, during which he notes that the gap between him as a far-left activist in the 1970s and Margaret Thatcher was nowhere near as large as the gulf today between the new cultural elite and those of us who seek to challenge them. The reason for this, he notes, is that we could debate our opponents, we could have a mature, grown-up conversation – about taxation or wealth redistribution or the values we wish to defend. This is no longer the case.
Today, any issue the new elite doesn’t wish to debate – from immigration to grooming gangs – is derided and dismissed as dragging us into a culture war, a mere distraction from real politics. But these are precisely the issues that people wanted to discuss in Newcastle’s Telegraph Pub that night, along with LTNs and climate change and the corrosive effects of identity politics. And, although we didn’t all agree on every subject – in fact there was quite a lot of disagreement – it was clear that there was a need for open debate as a means to collective understanding and problem-solving.
In addition, I found Danny Kruger’s Tories Must Trust the People refreshing. His argument was that Conservatives must ‘lean in to the realignment’ to govern with the interests and values of the people in mind – not the values of the intelligentsia, whose values are ‘to everyone and no one’. It’s not often we hear politicians talking about trusting the public, rather than the elitist view that we’re so riddled with prejudice that we need sensitivity readers in our libraries and diversity trainers in our offices.
The assault on the so-called ignorant public is another facet of the Culture War that isn’t purely confined to the online sphere. Ella Whelan’s brilliant article for spiked this week takes a look at why the SNP’s proposals for juryless rape trials are dripping with elitism and a recipe for injustice. She pours scorn on the arguments that the public believe in ‘rape myths’ and are too prejudiced to judge rape trials fairly.
But people are fighting back. Collective action is also becoming a more dominant feature of western societies, particularly against top-down impositions, such as those surrounding Net Zero policies. This week, AOI’s Jacob Reynolds was a guest on the spiked podcast where he discussed the truckdrivers’ revolt in Denmark, as well as why the West must not give up on Ukraine.
Democracy depends on our engagement, and open debate is something we’ve always championed at the Academy of Ideas. It is the motivation behind our network of Forums and Salons, as well as our flagship project - the Battle of Ideas festival - which takes place annually in London and now also in Buxton. Expanding the public square for debate is fundamental to democracy and that’s why I’m championing the Politics in Pubs initiative.
Politics in Pubs was launched in Manchester last year and now has groups in Newcastle and Sheffield. It is fast becoming a way for people who value the opportunity to speak openly without fear of censure or censorship and a way to share resources and ideas about our current political, cultural and economic situation.
Since the end of Lockdown, I think many of us have got into the habit of watching politics happen to us, on a screen, but there really is no substitute for having a real conversation with other people in terms of working out how to come together and challenge the regressive new orthodoxy. Check out the website to see if there’s a meeting in your area. If not, you could always set up a group of your own. All you need is a few friends and the price of a pint. The ideas will flow. One thing the marginalised majority are not short of is ideas and opinions. Democracy has always been fought for and defended from below. I think it’s now more important than ever.
In the media
Yes, your Brexit voice CAN be heard in Westminster
Brexit Facts4EU on how Claire Fox is making the case for Brexit in Parliament.
Juryless rape trials are a recipe for injustice
Ella Whelan on the elitism of the SNP’s proposals.
The spiked podcast: the new truckers’ revolt
Jacob Reynolds is the guest on this week’s edition, discussing the truckers in Denmark and the war in Ukraine.
THE ACADEMY 2023: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE FUTURE?
Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 July.
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· Why utopia Matters
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· And many more!
Further information and tickets are available from the Ideas Matter website.
East Midlands Salon
The relevance of Marx in the 21st century
Thursday 25 May, 7pm
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Speaker: Efraim Carlebach
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Sunday 4 June, 11am
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