“Wokeism” and the culture wars are on course to becoming the biggest dividing line in British politics, a prominent pollster has concluded following a major study into voter attitudes.
Frank Luntz, who spent nearly three decades carrying out work for the Republican Party in the US and advised presidents including George W Bush on political language, said that within six to 12 months cultural divisions in Britain would catch up with those in the United States.
“The problem with woke and with cancel culture is that it is never done. The conflict and divisions never end,” he said. “This is not what the people of the UK want — but it’s coming anyway.”The Labour Party was in touch with its own voter base but “disconnected with everyone else,” he said. Sir Keir Starmer’s party “has got an internal conflict that is unsustainable”.
The term “woke” refers to someone concerned with social issues such as race and trans rights.
Luntz, who travelled to London and joined the Centre for Policy Studies in May to conduct the research, found that “wokeism” was a top-three cause of concern among voters, more than sexism or populism.
In a study involving focus groups and polls of several thousand people, he found that voters believed “woke” versus “non-woke” was a greater divide than north versus south, cities versus rural areas, women versus men and young versus old.
Luntz, who was a contemporary of Boris Johnson at Oxford and carried out polling for his campaign to be elected Oxford Union president, found that support for the two main political parties in Britain was increasingly split across such cultural lines.
Some 81 per cent of Tory voters agreed that the UK was a nation of “equality and freedom”, while 19 per cent said it was “institutionally racist and discriminatory nation”. Among Labour voters 52 per cent agreed with the former and 48 per cent with the latter.
According to his findings, 40 per cent of all voters believe cancel culture enforces a “thought and speech police ‘’ that can ruin lives, while 25 per cent think it is a good thing because if you say something sexist or racist you should “face the consequences”.
Luntz said that “woke” issues were becoming dominant in British political culture. “Woke begets woke,” he said. “It’s a narrative that Labour is promoting now but the Conservatives will pick it up as a reaction… The damage and the consequences of that chasm is awful.”
“When you have decided that your country is institutionally racist and discriminatory you don’t normally go back.”
Luntz joined the Centre for Policy Studies, a centre-right think tank in London, in May to carry out a study on US-UK democracy and political language. Its findings, which will be published and presented to a cross-party group of MPs this week, contain key lessons for both the Tory and Labour parties, according to Luntz.
They suggest that the two main parties are increasingly divided on cultural lines and that Labour faces a particular challenge keeping the support of its existing base while appealing to the wider public. According to the findings, three quarters of Tory supporters agree that the UK “gives people a fair chance to get ahead if they work hard and take responsibility” while just a quarter think it is “full of injustice and inequality that holds many people back”. Labour voters were split almost down the middle on the question.
Asked whether “for the most part economic and financial success is earned and deserved,” 68 per cent of Conservative voters agreed compared with 42 per cent of Labour voters.
“The divide in Britain is on everything,” Luntz said. “Culturally, Labour prioritises British identity, the Conservatives prioritise British tradition. Economically Labour prioritises equality and the Conservatives prioritise hard work. On just about every single issue there is a chasm within the country.”
Asked for his advice to Starmer he said that Labour should place greater emphasis on issues of security and safety, which are a top priority for voters, and avoid calling for higher taxes on individuals or businesses because the public think they too will be affected. He stressed that racial inequality was the number one priority for Labour supporters but not one voter group, and that those most concerned with “woke” issues were Labour-supporting women in their late 20s and early 30s.
He said age and political affiliation were the biggest dividing lines when it came to views on woke issues and the culture war.
“I’m seeing things that you are going to see six months to a year from now. It’s already done significant damage to our system in the United States. It prioritises equality over meritocracy. We’re becoming intolerant of tolerance.
“We are writing each other off and out of our lives. The damage and the consequences of that chasm is awful. The consequences are so significant, less cooperation, less compromise, more negativity.”
Asked for his advice to Boris Johnson he pointed to findings that suggested voters believed the most important objective for government should be “protecting the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable”. This was the most popular option among those polled, chosen by 40 per cent, far more than the second most popular which was “letting people keep more of their hard-earned income” and chosen by 27 per cent.
“This is a warning for the [Conservatives] that they cannot only be for their people. It cannot just be about their current vote, that protecting the poorest weakest and most vulnerable isn’t a slogan, it’s a way of life,” Luntz said.
The study found that just 42 per cent of voters believe that they are invested in the UK and just 27 per cent believe the UK is invested in them.
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