Poisoning the well

I say this most begrudgingly, but you’ve almost got to hand it to those on the right: they’re pretty good at what they do. And by that, I mean they’re very good at poisoning the well.

It used to be all about ‘political correctness’, where tales of ludicrous edicts would travel from the pages of local newspapers to the nationals. Like in 2009, when it was reported that Flintshire County Council’s staff canteen had started serving ‘Spotted Richard for dessert to quell childish sniggering among diners. It was a decision taken by the kitchen staff (the council itself hadn’t enacted an official policy whereby ‘Spotted Dick’ would have to be called something like ‘Sultana Schlong’ forevermore). But once the story hit the nationals the minutiae didn’t matter, it was just POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD!

There was also the ‘goggles to play conkers’ story from 2004 when a local headteacher reportedly made children at his school wear safety goggles to play the game. The story was part of a perfect storm, as only a few days later it was reported that a primary school in Clackmannanshire had banned conkers due to the risk of nut allergies. So of course, anti-PC rags like the Daily Mail – in which Richard Littlejohn, wringing the life out of a single catchphrase like Bart Simpson’s ‘I Didn’t Do It’ boy, wrote endlessly about ‘Elf ‘n’ Safety’ – viewed it as a veritable WAR ON CONKERS!

Of course, there was no national mandate banning conkers and no requirement for schoolchildren to wear goggles when playing, but the furore over these hyperlocal decisions took the roof off. Blathering boiled ham David Cameron was still talking about the fucking conker goggles in 2009 (before eventually rising to power and moving onto more important matters, like ruining the country). Even as recently as 2017, Marina Fogle, writing in the Mail about her pro-risk, laissez-faire parenting style, once again invoked the humble conker, claiming that they’re “now regarded as being as dangerous as flick knives”. (Unless I’ve missed thousands of conker bludgeoning deaths carried out by ruthless postcode gangs, I would dispute that.)

But once the press and news media had been flooded with these fairly inconsequential stories labelled as ‘political correctness gone mad!’ (something Guardian columnist Nesrine Malik called a “manufactured outrage industry”) it became easy – effortless – for those on the right to instantly smear and delegitimatise anything by slapping it with the ‘PC’ label, which usually boiled down to anything they saw as an attack on British culture – or put more simply: an attempt to change ‘the way things have always been’.

Eventually, the difference between legitimate and important discussions around positive social change, fairness and inclusivity, and something fairly silly like a canteen changing the name of a pudding, were indistinguishable – it was all just politically correct nonsense! With its obsession with diversity and equality, anything proposed by the ‘loony liberal left’ had to be railed against. “If I can’t sit in my front garden in my vest eating a moist spotted dick while shouting a cheery good morning to my P*ki neighbour, then I don’t know what’s happened to this country?!”

But in the same way that ‘political correctness’ was used to constantly beat the left over the head, we now have the equally infuriating term ‘wokeness’ to contend with, which has been weaponised by the right in much the same way. Following the Conservatives’ befuddling success in the recent local elections, Dan Wootton claimed that it was proof that “hardworking British folk” had rejected woke politics and that Boris Johnson had to “get serious and inflict a total defeat against divisive wokeism before it’s too late”.

Too late? Too late for what? What’s the endgame for wokeism, Dan? A human battery field of cloned Mike Grahams, glabrous and naked, submerged in viscid pools of liquefied right-wing journalists, being used to power the PA system at the Notting Hill Carnival? Furthermore, how on earth do you “inflict total defeat” on a word that means (according to the Cambridge Dictionary’s definition) “aware, especially of social problems such as racism and inequality”? And why would anyone who claims to be woke – based on that definition – be seen as a threat to be defeated? How on earth has the right, yet again, managed to poison the well so that qualities like empathy, compassion and awareness (and those who would embrace them) are considered somehow radical, worthy of mockery and attack?

Whatever the answers to these questions, expect to be beaten over the head with more tiresome, woke-related shittery from the soon-to-be-launched GB News. If reports are true, Andrew Neil’s new nightly show will include an appallingly titled ‘Wokewatch’ segment. If This Week was anything to go by, expect appalling green screen and hilarious skits performed by some of the most fuck-awful people imaginable.

How is it possible for the left to be facing off against a corrupt government of proven liars, a plethora of obnoxious right-wing commentators, and the kinds of people who complain about Naga Munchetty failing to show the required reverence whenever a Tory minister appears on BBC Breakfast with a union flag jammed in each ear, and still be losing?

Are we just not as ruthless as the right?

But then again, how is it possible to defeat (or turn) people who’ve become inured to government corruption? Or whose voting intention is driven purely by a hatred of the liberal left following years of conditioning by a hostile right-wing press? Or who’ve spent the post-referendum years feeling emboldened in their vile racist views? How on earth do you poison a well that’s already awash with poison?

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