Woke juggernaut gets the wobbles
It often feels as if the woke Left is omnipotent, razing all before it as it marches relentlessly through Western institutions and culture. Its encounter with the occasional obstacle, no matter how temporary it might prove, offers hope that all is not lost.
Britain’s right-on classes have had a few nasty surprises of late. Most famously, BBC management was found to have protected and later rehired fraudster Martin Bashir, whose deceitful manipulation of the late Princess of Wales into a Panorama interview in 1995 probably contributed to her tragic death two years later. In particular, the spotlight has been on Tony Hall, now Lord Hall, BBC director of news and current affairs at the time of Bashir’s Diana interview and director-general 2013-2020.
It’s astonishing how someone with such appalling judgment can rise so high in Britain’s establishment. As questions accumulated after Bashir’s interview, Hall conducted a review, described by Lord Dyson in his recently concluded fresh inquiry into the affair as ‘woefully ineffective’. Despite knowing that Bashir used forged documents to secure the interview, Hall judged him ‘honest and honourable’. In 2016, he re-hired Bashir. Hall and the BBC have yet to explain these extraordinary decisions.
Hall personified the corporation’s steady shift to the woke Left. He was central in efforts to ban the singing of ‘Rule Britannia!’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at last year’s Proms and presided over the removal of the BBC’s only two presenters seen as right-of-centre, Speccie boss Andrew Neil and Jeremy Clarkson. And on his watch, much of the BBC’s once-famed television drama is now widely mocked for its clunky diversity box-ticking. In the new crime drama The Pact, for example, the BBC would have us believe that senior Welsh police officers are black and the only happy couples are lesbian.
The scandal has forced Hall to resign as director of the National Gallery. But will the scandal change the BBC? It will probably continue with its woke ways. But its reputation, not least among the royal family, is seriously damaged. More people will be interested in Andrew Neil’s soon-to-be-launched BBC rival, GB News. The BBC will probably now find it harder to secure the vast budgetary support it says it needs.
Meanwhile, there’s been a victory for counter-woke forces in England’s National Trust. The PC agenda of chairman Tim Parker had sparked a membership revolt and he jumped before he was pushed. The rebels’ not unreasonable aim was to refocus the Trust on its original purpose, caring for and promoting the buildings and landscapes under its protection. Instead, Parker, who once described Black Lives Matter as a ‘human rights movement with no party-political affiliations’, gave them an obsessive focus on properties’ connections with slavery and ‘colonialism’ – i.e. the British Empire – plus compulsory ‘rainbow’ lanyards and diversity courses for staff, including volunteer gardeners. He wanted less emphasis on the ‘outdated mansion experience’ and staff airbrushed ‘Easter’ from Easter egg hunts. Inevitably, Trust management under Parker fretted that the six million members are largely white, middle-class and middle-aged.
The theme of returning to core business has also been championed by the new head of Britain’s second-largest police force, Greater Manchester Police. With British police now mainly famous for taking the knee to BLM and for being more focussed on Twitter misgendering than on solving real crime, a London policewoman shouting ‘Free Palestine’ along with demonstrators was no surprise. But Manchester police chief Stephen Watson promises a new era and ‘old-fashioned qualities’, including polished shoes, and the novelty of police turning up to investigate every burglary.
Yet a further setback for the woke warriors has been the defeat of the Rhodes Must Fall push. After a Bristol mob last year threw the city’s statue of philanthropist and slave-owner Edward Colston into the harbour, huge demonstrations in Oxford demanded that Oriel College’s statue of Cecil Rhodes must also fall. Oriel’s governing body initially announced its ‘wish’ that the statue would go, but now says that because of approval procedures with no certain outcome, it will not remove the statue. A key consideration appears to be one of the few steps the Johnson government has undertaken to protect Britain’s history, legal changes in March to protect statues from what one minister has called ‘baying mobs’.
Finally, Britain’s Left has egg on its face over its attempts to frame the attempted murder of BLM activist Sasha Johnson as an act of white racism. Labour’s former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott tweeted ‘nobody should have to potentially pay with their life because they stood up for racial justice’. Unfortunately facts have got in the way of this explanation. The police said that they were looking for four black men who turned up at the party that Johnson was at and have arrested five, including on charges of attempting to supply drugs. The attempted murder of Johnson seems likely to have arisen from a gang-related dispute. The episode will undermine the BLM myth that white racism is the main challenge faced by blacks. Many will also wonder about the BLM-Left’s constant attacks on police ‘stop and search’ – the means whereby the suspected would-be murderer was caught – and more generally the message of activists like Sasha Johnson to abolish, or ‘f-ck’, the police.
Of course plenty of counter-examples highlight the strength of the current woke lunacy. Cambridge’s vice-chancellor says raising an eyebrow to a black student can be a ‘micro-aggression’. The Royal Academy of Music questions the future of a harpschicord owned by Handel because he owned shares in the slave trade. The London mayor’s office sees Georgian houses as racist. A railways employee is disciplined for referring to ‘ladies and gentlemen’. And of course Boris Johnson’s policies on climate and illegal immigration might as well have been dreamt up by the Greens. Still, it’s somewhat reassuring to see that, at least occasionally, not all the traffic is entirely in one direction.
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Mark Higgie is The Spectator Australia’s Europe correspondent and is on Twitter at @markhiggie1
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