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Time to call a truce in the culture wars. Rather than stir up division, let’s seek solutions that bring people together

4 min read

Whether it is the politics of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, age, or disability, there is always someone ready to offend and be offended.

I would rather be awake than asleep. Prefer to be aware of what is going on around me, in my community, in my country, than blithely carrying on, oblivious to things that may well have changed.

That may make me “woke” and I am conscious that is bandied about all too readily as an insult, as if to be woke is a bad thing. As opposed to what exactly? Being unconscious? Because I would suggest you really don’t want to be that.

But the thing I reject is that there has to be a culture war at all. And why is it always a “war”, with talk of the “trenches”, lobbing “missiles” at each other from both sides and indeed the middle? It doesn’t have to be like that; we could all choose to debate some of the more vexed issues with sensitivity and nuance, recognising that it is all a great deal more complicated than the headline writers would have us believe.

Whether it is the politics of gender, or race, or religion, or sexual orientation, or age (that’s always a good one, pitting the boomers against the millennials), or disability, there is always someone ready to offend and be offended.

We can learn from the past, apply it in the future and find the common ground

I am minded to recount the tale of a very close friend of mine, a tetraplegic confined to a wheelchair for the last 20 years, who was hounded off a discussion board for referring to himself as having a disability rather than being disabled. He looked at me, laughed, and said: “I’m the one in the wheelchair, and I am not remotely bothered as to how I refer to myself.” And that’s before we even start to discuss knitting wars.

So with plenty ready to go to “war” at the slightest provocation, surely it is incumbent upon politicians and political parties not to stoke culture wars, and to look for solutions and ways to bring people together rather than to stir up division.

It was the late Jo Cox who used her maiden speech to remind us we have far more in common than that which divides us. A point echoed last month by her sister, Kim Leadbeater, when she first spoke in the House. She is not wrong, Jo was not wrong, we are not wrong. From the most outspoken trans activist to the most determined feminist, common ground can be found.

Interestingly during the recent inquiry my select committee held into the Gender Recognition Act, all those who gave evidence agreed that a gender recognition panel was a nonsense. How can anyone judge if a hairstyle is sufficiently feminine? What is too much make-up and what not enough? Do I have to wear a dress to be a woman, or will jeans do? That one’s a nightmare. What if they’re boyfriend jeans, does that count us out on all sides?

But culture wars are serious, and I am being deliberately flippant, because isn’t humour one of the best ways to deflect an argument? And don’t we need to avoid the urge to argue, and instead find some pragmatic solutions to the rows raging about statues, knees and the curriculum? Because shouting at each other is not going to work.

Of course cultures change, evolve and grow. And thank goodness for that, because if they didn’t we would all be set in aspic, listening to frankly suspect music and wearing appalling clothes. It is pointless to fight change, to hark back to a bygone era and pretend everything was perfect then. It wasn’t, but we can learn from the past, apply it in the future and find the common ground without launching missiles.


Caroline Nokes is the Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North and chair of the Women and Equalities Committee.

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