Fabian Society says recent fights don’t reflect genuine divisions and risk fracturing British discourse
Much of the focus on so-called “culture war” issues in the UK is based on confected controversies, a thinktank analysis has suggested, with the debate artificially inflamed by politicians and commentators and then amplified by social media.
While some countries waged such battles over more genuine societal divides, the UK’s culture wars simply pitted deprived communities against each other and tended to “caricature” movements for equality, the Fabian Society said.
The report from the leftwing organisation charted the trajectory of a series of recent controversies attributed to culture wars, such as debate over whether Rule, Britannia! should be played on the final night of the Proms, and supposed efforts to “cancel” the film Grease, concluding that these do not reflect genuine divisions and are largely stoked by politicians and the media.
It warned politicians from both the left and right to avoid taking part in such antics, lest political discourse in the UK become as fractured as that in the US.
“The public deserves better than fabricated fights,” said Kirsty McNeill, a charity executive and former Labour adviser who co-authored the analysis.
“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.”
Roger Harding, the other author, who heads the Reclaim youth charity, said: “Culture-war peddlers often use contrived stories to pit working-class communities against one another and caricature movements for racial and LGBT equality.”
’s government has been accused of seeking to capitalise on culture war issues to stir up its base, with attacks on so-called “woke” culture, and a campaign to prevent the institutions such as museums and galleries from critically re-examining the UK’s past.
Among the most vehement criticism came in June when Samuel Kasumu, Johnson
’s former adviser on race, said he feared such provocations could beget another outrage like the murders of Stephen Lawrence or Jo Cox.
The Fabian Society analysis warned politicians on the left to avoid the temptation to engage in such culture war battles, arguing that they tend to simply divide opinion over the prospects of positive change.
Another report on the issue, published last week by the rightwing Centre for Policy Studies, based on polling among the public, argued that while genuine differences of opinion on values existed between Conservative and Labour supporters, the bulk of voters were more exercised by matters such as paying bills.
The study, compiled by the veteran US pollster and communications expert Frank Luntz, uncovered what he called “alarming” findings of discontent about UK politicians. Asked to rank 18 descriptions of how British political leaders made them feel, split between positive and negative emotions, the top eight choices were disappointed, ignored, irrelevant, fed up, betrayed, forgotten, left behind and angry.
Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society, said those on the left “must focus their energy not on winning culture wars, but on calling them out”.
He 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.”