The meaning of woke

School chief urges headteachers to challenge anyone who criticises young people for ‘wokeness’

Defaced Churchill statue
A defaced statue of former prime minister Winston Churchill in Parliament Square during an anti-racism protest
(Image credit: Isabel Infantes/AFP/Getty Images)

A former Tory minister has described the British government’s anti-woke agenda as “absolutely pathetic” and warned that it is not the route to electoral success.

Writing on Politico, Ed Vaizey, a member of the House of Lords and former Minister for Culture, said the campaign is “counter-productive” in a warning to Boris Johnson that “elections are won from the centre”.

Last week, Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, vowed that the Conservative government will “save Britain’s statues from the woke militants who want to censor our past”.

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Writing in The Telegraph, he said that “town hall militants and woke worthies” were trying to “impose a single, often negative narrative which not so much recalls our national story, as seeks to erase part of it”.

Although Jenrick claimed support for “woke” causes as the preserve of a tiny minority, a YouGov poll of 1,631 people last summer found that 27% of people supported the removal of all statues of historical figures with links to slavery from British towns and cities.

Writing in The Observer, historian David Olusoga said the Tory government’s “war on woke” is nothing more than “political theatre” and a distraction from government failures. “With so much going wrong and the need for political distraction so acute, the housing minister was sent out to bat,” he added.

However, unlike Vaizey, Olusoga thinks the anti-woke campaign does work “in the polling booths”.

In The Guardian, Zoe Williams agrees that this campaign is about distraction, writing that “while we’re blaming each other for wokeness or bigotry, that’s all energy not directed at the government”.

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