Woke or Asleep?

I think we’ve reached a very interesting phase in our UK politics.

The ‘free’ British press can write whatever they like as long as you’re willing to pay for it.  Brexit Britain is a place where expats living abroad voted leave and then are very surprised when their host government asks them to do likewise; where our great fishing industry has now escaped the dreaded EU red tape, to have replaced it with more excellent British Red, White and Blue tape that is now crippling a once thriving industry.

Good job we ‘took back control’ when we did as I’m sure we would have needed Brexit for our successful vaccine roll-out, which is, incidentally probably the only real thing our incumbents have done a decent job at. Even then we only have to scratch the surface to see some have ‘jumped the queue’ and claimed to work in social care when they don’t and there has still been poor take-up in many ethnic minority communities. It’s like they don’t trust the government or something to treat minority groups fairly and with respect? I will welcome an independent enquiry to unpick these challenges in the future, but now is not the time.

My big gripe at the moment may well be down to semantics.

The idea and thought of Liberalism seems to have become a dirty word. ‘Liberal elite’ is used like a pejorative insult and the word ‘woke’ expelled with the vitriolic bile of a thousand angry ducts.

This idea of being woke is not something new. Liberal thinkers have often been labelled or abused for looking to do the ‘right thing’. This is like the latest and next in a long line of jargon created by our press gangs to cause disquiet, disillusionment and discredit those who would seek to make life more acceptable, helpful or comfortable for all. Equality if you like.

The last installation was ‘virtue signalling’. Again making out that identifying and speaking about good, positive or helpful practices is in some way or form a bad thing. How can those identifying the virtues of others be seen negatively? Marcus Rashford was interesting when exposing the great chasm in the government support of the UK’s poorest children. He exposed the lies and couldn’t be bought off with titles or extra favours. He had lived it and now genuinely wanted to help. More people like him, particularly of colour, need to be recognised and their contribution supported. Perhaps others, even those with our own privilege need to be silent at times or at the very least raise the profiles of those at the sharp end.

Perhaps those who seek to do otherwise are indeed asleep themselves? Because the opposite of woke is clearly being asleep. ‘Not asleep’ does not quite have the same ring to it though.

Woke-ness seems to have stuck though, it seems vague enough to cover most Liberal ‘virtues’ that those in government and their allies, who seem more concerned with putting  flags into classrooms and hospitals than funding them, can advocate for decisively enough when it suits, some vague ‘Liberal Woke Brigade’ like a ghoulish bogeyman. It also is specific enough to be identified with particular recent movements fighting for equality, recognition and freedom. BLM or the protesters fighting for a safer world for women recently. This is what is such a concern, too often few take a broader view of any news or media, they see something that loosely chimes with their own prejudices and preconceptions and instead of fact-checking or reading around an issue, they run with it, adding their voice to the already saturated cess-pool. Especially if it’s on social media. Perhaps they need to wake up?

So what then should we do? What should those who are keen to support individual liberty, uphold, extol,  generate, permeate and persuade the virtues of Liberalism and Liberal thinking be called? Individuals perhaps? Individualism and personal thinking seems to be lost on this current generation.

Can we not be celebrated for our individualism? Perhaps in future the individuals will be extolled as the next ‘virtue signallers’ by our free speech press. I live in hope.

I encourage all liberal thinkers though, don’t be discouraged by the latest verbal flotilla and continue to voice your concerns, share the virtues of Liberalism and continue to be valued for your individual contribution, perhaps then I believe and indeed hope, I will live to see a much more inclusive society.

* Aidan Jenkins is a SENCO (special needs co-ordinator) in a local high school and a party member in Newcastle-under-Lyme

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16 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 8th Apr '21 - 12:50pm

    A thought provoking article.

    My understanding of virtue signalling is when an employer, business etc does the wrong thing because they want to be seen as supporting a particular cause. For example, sacking on employee, even when an allegation has not been proved, because they are more concerned about taking a potentially unpopular course of action than doing what may be the right thing to do.

  • Aidan Jenkins 8th Apr '21 - 1:23pm

    Thanks. Its possible I’ve misrepresented what virtue signalling is but for me its been used as a negative pejorative for ‘doing the right thing’.

  • Little Jackie Paper 8th Apr '21 - 2:39pm

    What you are really talking about here though surely is the culture wars though isn’t it? Sure, lots of terms get lobbed endlessly around the internet in a very lazy way, liberal elite being one of them. But what we are really talking about is the new divide in our society. We saw this played out most obviously at the EU referendum where the divide was around differing world outlooks rather than any traditional Labour/Conservative divide. We saw a clear ‘metropolitan’ vs ‘non-metropolitan’ split in the voting (at least in England and Wales).

    One the one hand was a group to whom ‘globalisation’ represented little more than a sunshine retirement, selling bubble priced property and cheap au pairs. On the other was a cohort for whom globalisation has been little more than the opportunity to have your job outsourced and the rent shoot up.

    What we have now is an overclass, a comfortable class, a coping class and an underclass. It is the coping class that became ever more fed up with a state that geared itself to global causes. To the comfortable class (the so-called liberal elite) wanting a domestic focus was insufferably parochial.

    Another example would be the Iraq conflict. To elites that was the opportunity to secure a reputation as a global player. To others it was the opportunity to import other people’s conflicts.

    To be clear, I make no value judgement here on any world view – what I’m getting at is that it’s not just something played out on florid talkboards. It’s a genuine realignment of politics. Many leaders tried to articulate it: Clegg spoke of ‘alarm clock Britain, ‘ Ed M of, ‘a squeezed middle’ and May about ‘Just about managings.’ They all identified the drifts, but it was Cummings (love him or hate him) who worked out what to do about it.

  • Barry Lofty 8th Apr '21 - 3:56pm

    I am not sure I understand some of the words and language used in this post or some of the responses to it but I do agree with the gist of it, and if we are making a choice about Mr Cummings put me down on the hate side.

  • Andrew Toye 8th Apr '21 - 4:03pm

    Whilst “virtue signalling” is an insult used by the political right against liberals and the left, it does not stop right-wingers indulging in virtue signalling themselves.

    The insistence of flying Union Flags on government buildings and the preservation of statues regardless of their connection to slavery are notable examples. (Over-the-top sentencing for damaging statues is also Tory virtue signalling, rather than based on the effectiveness of reducing crime).

  • Matt (Bristol) 8th Apr '21 - 4:11pm

    This seems a bit of a rant, in response to reading rants other people have written, and as such it seems to be straw-manning in response to straw-manning. I guess that’s allowable now and then, and God knows I’ve probably done it.

    I share the unease about people and lobbyists on the right encouraging lazy thinking and easy dismissal of projects and proposals to help society integrate and be more tolerant and pro-ative against injustice. Particularly when this is pushed by biased and manipulative media.

    But that doesn’t mean that all the proposals and projects are inherently good, free from their own forms of lazy thinking and prejudice, or impose no constraints and risks on society as a whole. Each proposal needs to be considered on its own merits and requires its own democratic sanction.

    Neither does it follow that people who oppose projects and policies you are in favour of, do so for reasons of malignity or stupidity, or that everyone who proposes the projects or policies you are in favour of, does so for benign and disinterested reasons.

    Otherwise you’re just falling into ‘People who like this, liked that, so I must hate people who hate either’. God save us from dualism and binarism, please. Fast.

    I don’t want to be part of a tribal liberal left, around any kind of unthinking identity (call it ‘woke’ or what you will) and neither do I want to be aligned against it for unthinking reasons.

    In the same way, during the coalition I didn’t want to the lib dems to be part of any tribal pro-business ‘classical liberal’ right for reasons of unthinking identity, when there were clearly people of goodwill and commonsense on both the pro-state and small-state sides of the argument(s) and measures needed to be considered on their own merits based on continuing democratic sanction and scrutiny.

    If you don’t like the (sometimes) tendentious arguments of the ‘anti-woke’ media, don’t bait their own trap for them.

  • Vince Cable has been writing about this for decades. In his pamphlet https://3859gp38qzh51h504x6gvv0o-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/files/2019/03/Beyond-Brexit.pdf he writes:
    “What British politics needs is a party or group of parties which recognises that there is a new organising principle in politics, based on identity, is able to articulate a response to it, which is understanding of its causes but willing to take on those who demand loyalty to exclusive identity whether it is based on the nation state or ethnicity. In the battle over Brexit, Liberal Democrats have performed that role with assorted allies from other parties. The challenge now is to build a movement and a set of recognisable principles for this new kind of politics. I will call it the ‘liberal’ position, since it is not ‘centrist’ in the new polarity, but at one end of the spectrum.
    A movement of this kind will embrace several diferent strands, refecting the values of the liberal and social democratic and ‘one nation’ Tory traditions: outward-looking, rejecting narrow nationalist and ethnic politics; with a strong liberal appeal, with respect for legally enforceable individual rights; supporting freedom of expression and worship, privacy and property ownership; with a social democratic belief that the state has an active, positive, role to play in a market economy, including countering gross inequality; and an understanding of ecological imperatives and our obligations to others, including future generations, for the state of our environment.
    These values, of course, inevitably come into confict and are prioritised in different ways by different people. I believe that the Liberal Democrats should and will be leading a movement of this kind but we will need to reform to become more inclusive and representative and to work alongside others with a similar agenda.”

  • Aidan Jenkins 8th Apr '21 - 5:24pm

    I appreciate the comments and agree it maybe a bit ranty or straw-manning. Just borne out of frustration really when people of integrity seem to be the ones sidelined.

  • Aidan Jenkins starts with a reference to the role of the press. At a time when Liberal values are under attack more explicitly than such as we have experienced in decades, most national newspapers are cheerleaders for that assault. Michael Foot got something right with his complaint about “the Forgers Gazette”. There are several contenders for that title today. Foot knew that it was the way the news is presented rather that editorial opinion which is to be feared. Alas many of the those who write pieces in the Guardian and elsewhere resisting some of the worst newsprint distortion in Europe fail to see the Liberal Democrats as a coherent rallying point for creating a more liberal and fairer society sustained by a robust philosophy that addresses the central issues of our time. Tackling the power of Britain’s mainstream newspapers is an awesome task but at least politically literate Focus leaflets and their online equivalents can offer alternative media that have not yet been banned!

  • I once sat in a conference where a series of questions in such a way and in such an elegant way that none of the participants knew what the questioner was asking. Keep it simple, make it snappy and make it memorable.

  • I’m wondering if the inability to see the points being made by others in display in this article is one of the reasons that the LibDems has fallen so far behind in the polls. Why double digits seem such a challenge.

    Awake is the opposite of asleep, not “woke.” The term was first coined by those who chose to apply it to themselves as a positive sense. When used as a prerogative it is used a number of ways but tends to be indicating either a perceived heavy skew towards an identity politics world view (now beyond the original racial focus) or someone chasing the latest fad. If you are neutral, the opposite of “woke” would be “un-woke,” if you are anti the opposite is “normal,” to many who self identify with the term there are too many opposite pejoratives to list.

    The use of the term “virtue signalling” is clearly a criticism of people trying to portray virtue in the absence of having virtue. A big business who pays its works poorly, gives little job security and fails to offer any prospect of career development (if centred in dense population areas, these will also tend to disproportionately effect young ethnic minority citizens) but then make effort to change its social media logos to the latest “day” and issue statements of support on unrelated topics is clearly “virtue signalling.” The virtue would be to take the action to provide staff with better employment.

    A lot is silly American talk imported, hence the term “liberal elite” they are often not at all liberal (or the want to be grated liberal freedom but are less happy about others having it).

    I suspect if the LibDems wasn’t to remain in the 6%-8% category forever this is a reasonable way to stay there, but if there is an ambition to ever achieve anything you need to be able to engage with the other side and understand what they are saying. If you are struggling to unpick the language, then you need to try harder.

    Perhaps Mr Jenkins should think what he means by “people of integrity seem to be the ones sidelined” what do you actually mean by that? What might the different rational interpretations of that phrase be? Are you happy with all of those?

  • John Roffey 9th Apr '21 - 5:46am

    These are very unusual times. However, what is clear is that if the Party hopes to win more votes – it should avoid the Woke agenda and restrict its attention to the less contentious by concentrating on the truly big issues that have emerged since the last GE.

    There is little comfort for supporters in Politico’s ‘Poll of Polls’ [https://www.politico.eu/europe-poll-of-polls/united-kingdom/] – for the Party continues its decline. There can be little hope of any real success at the forthcoming local elections. The question is will lessons be learned or will the ‘tick box’ mentality towards manifestos continue? Should a party with just 8% support continue to pretend it is ‘ready for government’ or will lessons be learnt from Farage’s management of UKIP in time for the 2024 GE?

    Farage has been the most successful leader of a small party [which the L/Ds have now become] in recent years. If his approach is adopted the Party will need to reduce its policies to just a handful. These need widespread appeal and be of significance so that they can be delivered with some passion – rational – but also heartfelt. Covid has shown that life is composed of both birth and death – the latter has been carefully hidden in most developed nations for many years – but has been graphically exposed by the pandemic.

    Although Covid-19 is likely to be a latent threat for many years to come with many suffering physical damage and mental trauma – climate change will become evermore concerning as increasingly extreme events take place [https://feedbackloopsclimate.com]. The threat of actual or near extinction of humankind, along with many other species, will become apparent – particularly to the young. It is these issues that need the party’s attention – if it is not to fall into terminal decline!

  • Little Jackie Paper 9th Apr '21 - 9:24am

    Joe Bourke – Your ‘liberal position’ is interesting and I think you are largely right. It does raise the question of that the alternative position is. My guess:

    It is probably what could be called a ‘parochial position.’ To be clear I don’t mean ‘parochial’ in any pejorative sense, I just can’t think of a better word now. The parochial stance may well of course have some cross-over into your liberal position and things aren’t exclusive. I guess that the parochial position would look something like Theresa May’s little purple patch when she became PM. Sceptical about grand projects and about foreign adventures. A stance that is not ‘Britain First’ but one that prioritises UK domestic concerns over the pursuit of international standing. Accepting a role for the state (as distinct from the Cameron/Coalition ‘the state must get out of the way’) but more inclined to lower tax. A belief in eco-issues but giving them a lower priority than your liberals. Doubtless the extent of immigration would be a flashpoint between these two world views.

    But what I think is significant is that the divide would probably not really track a classic Labour/Tory divide. Certainly we saw hints at the EU referendum that such a divide was on its last legs. It’s not just a culture war. It’s probably post-Thatcherist politics.

  • David Evans 9th Apr '21 - 11:12am

    Aidan, I’m sorry, but your article, despite trying to raise what should be an important issue, is instead rather confused, inaccurate and even downright misleading in so many places as to be almost worthless.

    First you say “where our great fishing industry has now escaped the dreaded EU red tape, to have replaced it with more excellent British Red, White and Blue tape.” Definitely an arch Remainer’s slant there. The tape that is binding down our fishing industry is simply EU regulations on import of fish to the EU to ensure standards of hygiene etc are equivalent to that demanded in the Single market. To pretend it is purely Red, White and Blue British tape is just plain wrong.

    Secondly you state that “This idea of being woke is not something new.” And then go on to say “This is like the latest and next in a long line of jargon created by our press gangs to cause disquiet … etc etc. Sorry Aidan, first you say woke has been around for a long time, but then to say it is the latest and next in a long line of jargon created by our press gangs is simply self contradictory.

    Then there is the redefinition of “virtue signalling” as “identifying and speaking about good, positive or helpful practices is in some way or form a bad thing”. We all know what Virtue signalling is and it is nothing like that.
    Finally you say “This is what is such a concern, too often few take a broader view of any news or media, they see something that loosely chimes with their own prejudices and preconceptions and instead of fact-checking or reading around an issue, they run with it, adding their voice to the already saturated cess-pool.” Well a failure to do reading around the issue of regulations governing import of fish to the EU, the evolution of the expressions ‘woke’ and ‘virtue signalling’ and their etymology, really is a bad start.

    Sorry Aidan, I think you were trying to put together a well meaning article, but it just seems to be a rehash of a long felt feeling of hurt, coupled with a failure to see that doing what our enemies do (using loose words, applying very slanted definitions and incorrect facts to a situation) is not the answer.

  • Nigel Jones 9th Apr '21 - 11:19am

    @Geoff Reid: “tackling the power of Britain’s mainstream newspapers is an awesome task” and we could include other media too, but it needs to be done and not just in focus leaflets. This week the Daily Express said the EU was to blame for the violence in Northern Ireland. Their argument was spurious, to say the least, that this government should not have accepted the protocol and should have resisted the EU raising the issue of the border between north and south because it is not an issue. Such an extraordinary view should be easy grounds for challenging the trustworthiness of that newspaper. Alerting the public to all the easy prejudiced lies expressed in the media must be part of our battle.

  • Ironically to really espouse the individual you need to understand what unites us. A similar logic applies to groups. We all share a common origin and a common destiny. Compassion comes from this understanding.

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