Contact: Emma Burnell, Media Consultant, Fabian Society
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‘Culture wars’ are created by politicians not genuine public disagreements – new report finds
New research for the Fabian Society reveals that in Britain the so-called ‘culture wars’ are driven by politicians, media outlets and social media platforms rather than reflecting actual attitude divides amongst the public. The report authors call on politicians on left and right to call out this divisive behaviour and stop Britain becoming as fractured as the USA.
The analysis, released today by the Fabian Society in a pamphlet title Counter Culture: How to resist the culture wars and build 21st century solidarity, finds that while culture wars in some countries might be rooted in stark public divides, in Britain clashes about tradition and identity are usually often instigated by those seeking political, personal or commercial gain. While these culture wars may result in significant public divides, the report finds this only happens after controversies are whipped up by the pedlars of culture wars.
Authors Kirsty McNeill and Roger Harding chart how a range of concocted debates, from whether Rule Britannia should be played at the end of the Proms to supposed ‘woke’ calls to have the film Grease ‘cancelled’, are fueled by politicians looking to caricature movements for equality, by commentators who personally profit from controversy and by media and social media platforms who see commercial gain in the clicks and coverage the outrage generates.
In recent weeks several Conservative figures, including Boris Johnson’s outgoing race adviser Samuel Kasumu, have suggested the Tory party is looking to profit from creating or stoking divides. The report shows how the government is promoting culture wars stories as a way to hold its voter base together while characterising the left as chiefly concerned with fringe issues. McNeill and Harding urge all politicians to consider whether the electoral gains of an approach rooted in division and outrage is worth the significant societal pain. While Britain is a long way short of the divisions found in the US, the report cautions against complacency.
The report also carries a stark warning for progressives, concluding that if they cannot find a way to end the culture wars they face a decade of stalled progress on social justice issues. The analysis points to how concocted culture wars fights are designed to leave progressive campaigners divided and disheartened, while leaving the public constituency for positive change splintered.
Progressives too often feel like they need to choose between their values and the majority support needed to win change. McNeill and Harding instead call for a new ‘solidarity strategy’ to resist the culture wars peddlers and build the support needed to tackle issues like racial injustice, the climate emergency and transforming the economy. Progressives are urged to adopt a four-pillar strategy:
- have the confidence to call out culture wars peddlers in public and explain what they are doing
- build social movements that are diverse and inclusive in practice and not just theory
- create a vision of an economy that works for all and explain how we’ll get there
- protect democracy by pursuing the regulation of tech platforms who profit from misinformation and division.
Kirsty McNeill, co-author said: “The temptations for all political parties are clear. Riling up a base and pointing it at an imagined enemy is much easier than doing the hard yards involved in meeting the prime minister’s ambition to ‘level up’. Equally, ignoring rivals’ attempts to sow division won’t help Keir Starmer assemble a broad and diverse coalition to back his vision of a fairer country.. The public deserves better than fabricated fights. The question of our time is which political leader is going to step forward to ensure we get it.”
Roger Harding, co-author said: “Culture war peddlers often use contrived stories to pit working class communities against one another and caricature movements for racial and LGBT equality. We need to have the confidence to call out what they are doing so we can build on the public demand – especially amongst working class people up and down the country – for action on jobs, climate change and building a better future for the next generation.”
Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society said: “It will not be easy to end the culture wars which have become a valuable tool for cynics on the right. These fake controversies create division between people with shared economic needs and they distract the public from a low tax, low regulation, libertarian worldview that few in Britain support. Progressives of all stripes – and the Labour party in particular – must focus their energy not on winning culture wars, but on calling them out, building bridges and ending these divisive battles.”
– Ends –
- The report is published by the Fabian Society and edited by Kate Murray.
- The Fabian Society is Britain’s oldest political think tank. Founded in 1884, the society is at the forefront of developing political ideas and public policy on the left. The society is alone among think tanks in being a democratically-constituted membership organisation, with over 7,000 members. It is constitutionally affiliated to the Labour party.