‘Anti-woke’ hysteria dominates Tory leadership campaigns, peddled by right-wing press

The race for the top job has been turned into a ‘culture war’, with barely a mention of how to help the most vulnerable and tackle the cost of living crisis.

Tory leadership contest

Instead of moving on from the ‘war on woke’ employed by Johnson’s government and backed up by the right-wing media, the Tory leadership candidates are intent on making anti-woke credentials a key component of their leadership campaigns.

Suella Braverman was first out of the starting blocks even before Johnson had resigned, promising tax cuts, war on Europe, abandonment of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the end to ‘woke’. 

Braverman may have been eliminated from the contest and the field has been whittled down to five, but her hard right policies offered a flavour of what was to come.

Penny Mordaunt’s former association – if not a mild one – with supporting equality for transgender people, was thrown up when she launched her leadership campaign. Believing her former comments on trans rights could derail her bid to become leader, Mordaunt launched an irate counterattack, attempting to assure Tory party members that she was not ‘woke.’

The Tory candidates’ appetite for prioritising an anti-woke agenda is exemplified by Penny Mourdant’s recognition that her former support of equality for transgender people could prove detrimental to the success of her leadership campaign.

Sunak pledges to clamp down on ‘clumsy, gender-neutral language’

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak, the current bookies’ favourite to take over as PM, pushes a similar anti-woke rhetoric. On launching his leadership campaign, Sunak promised to crackdown on ‘clumsy, gender-neutral language.’

An ‘ally’ of Sunak’s told the Mail on Sunday how the Richmond MP would reverse “recent trends to erase women via the use of clumsy, gender-neutral language” and said: “We must be able to call a mother a mother and talk about breastfeeding.”

According to the source, Sunak will launch a so-called ‘manifesto for women’s rights’ that will include commitment to ban trans women from women’s sports for the sake of “fairness” and urge schools to be “more careful” on how LGBTQ+ topics are taught.

Pink News, the online newspaper marketed to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, writes how Sunak’s campaign is already becoming exactly what LGBTQ+ people expected, “an excuse to punch down.”

“In one of his first policy pledges, the man who was once Britain’s top finance official will choose not to focus on the ongoing cost of living crisis. No, he will reportedly wade into the Tory party’s culture war over trans rights,” writes Pink News in a piece titled: ‘Farcical Tory leadership contest descends into a pathetic anti-trans gender-critical row.’

All five candidates support Rwanda deportation policy

The government’s plan to send illegal immigrants to Rwanda was labelled one of the most controversial immigration policy plans of the 21st century. Sadly, all five of the remaining leadership hopefuls pledge to maintain the divisive Rwanda off-shoring policy – even the supposed ‘moderate’ candidate, Tom Tugendhat.

Meanwhile, Liz Truss, who has previously said she wanted to bring back fox hunting and has been a leading figure in the government’s contentious plan to unilaterally scrap parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, has long won plaudits from the right of the party for taking on what she refers to as the ‘woke brigade.’

Then there is Kemi Badenoch, Saffron Walden MP and former levelling up minister, referred to as the ‘anti-woke campaigner making waves.’

Badenoch officially launched her leadership campaign this week. Speaking at the right-wing Policy Exchange think tank, Badenoch is said to have ‘lived up to her culture war credentials’ by banning gender-neutral toilets at the launch event. The former banker, who grew up in the UK, US, and Nigeria, is said to be running for Tory leader on an “anti-woke campaign.”

The Tory leadership hopeful evoked criticism when she claimed Black History Month was being politicised in the UK and claimed it was “racism history month.” This followed earlier controversial remarks when, during a debate on Black History Month, Badenoch said schools which taught that “white privilege” is an uncontested fact are breaking the law and that they should not openly support the “anti-capitalist” Black Lives Matter group.

In 2021, calls were made for the MP to resign following criticism from three UK government LGBT+ advisors.

Peter Tatchell, a human rights campaigner, said Badenoch had “lost the confidence” of the LGBT+ community and failed to deliver a government promise to ban conversion therapy.

Badenoch resigned as equalities minister and a minister in the Levelling Up department on July 6. This week she received the backing of Michael Gove in the race to become Tory leader.

Right-wing media push candidates’ anti-woke agendas

The right-wing media has been quick to lap up the Tory leadership hopefuls’ anti-woke agendas.

In a piece titled ‘We need an anti-woke prime minister – and all roads lead to Rishi Sunak’, GB News presenter Mark Dolan, speaks of how our next prime minister “must wage a war on woke and win it.” The author continues that, as he would be Britain’s first Asian prime minister, Sunak’s story is “the perfect British story.”

The Daily Mail shouts about how Kemi Badenoch has become the ‘anti-woke’ candidate for Tory party leader.’ The Mail, well known for its attacks on woke culture, did not hold back in hailing Badenoch, the ‘anti-woke’ candidate for PM, as a ‘Tory rising star.’

Spiked magazine, which, as Guardian columnist George Monbiot notes in an article about how US billionaires are fuelling the hard-right cause in Britain, “appears to hate left-wing politics, inveighing against the welfare state, regulation, the Occupy movement, Jeremy Corbyn, and more,” presents the ‘case of a culture warrior PM.’

The article is focused on Kemi Badenoch, who described the vote for Brexit as “the greatest ever vote of confidence in the project of the United Kingdom.”

According to Tom Slater, editor of Spiked who penned the piece, the Tories ‘should take a punt on Kemi Badenoch.’

“To say that Kemi Badenoch is the best bet for the Tories is a profound understatement. It’s not even close. In this Conservative Party leadership race, among a parade of grinning Blairites and tragic Thatcher tribute acts, the former equalities minister and MP for Saffron Walden is the insurgent candidate who most seems to ‘get it’”, writes Slater.

The author continues that while Boris Johnson’s government “often caved in on the culture war, his long-time equalities minister was a noble exception.”

With one in five citizens persistently living in poverty in Britain and with food bank use higher than ever, it would be good to think there might have been a candidate who would say it is time to restore our public services, seriously address poverty, rebuild our relationship with Europe and celebrate pluralistic voices.

Sadly, given the current state of the Conservative Party, it seems that a contestant who offered an alternative to hard-right policies, would see their leadership bid swiftly founder.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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