You’re woke, I’m woke, avocados are woke, the cat is woke, those mountains are woke. Everything is woke except the person calling them woke.
When the right-wing opinion factories of the US and their subsidiaries in London discovered this African-American term for acquiring political awareness it offered them a single syllable signifier with which to mislead their audience about seemingly anything.
Once captured as a pejorative term, it has no gradation or nuance. Nothing is ‘a bit woke’, or ‘too woke’, things are either condemned as woke or they are not.
In recent weeks, the Wokefinders General of British politics have turned their attention to Wales and, unsurprisingly, a positive result has been returned.
The choice to use the Welsh name for a national park is the perfect playing field for the game these people play, and the seemingly innocuous nature of the issue is key to their success.
Nobody went on hunger strike or set anything on fire to demand the removal of the English name for Bannau Brycheiniog; it was a marketing decision.
In two weeks, however, it has been inflated into an international story upon which everybody is supposed to have an opinion.
The mechanics of this are familiar. An obscure issue is identified ‒ often the utterance of a minor celebrity or unknown American academic ‒ then presenters from outlets like GB News, Talk TV and the Daily Mail focus on it relentlessly, ensuring that it appears widely in social media feeds.
Once this cut-through is achieved then the issue qualifies as a topic about which public figures can be questioned.
The obscurity of the topic allows those shaping a confected debate to play fast and loose with the facts, confident that so few people will know them that they won’t be called on it.
This is the point we reached this week when Rishi Sunak told BBC Wales that he will be continuing to say ‘Brecon Beacons’ when he’s on the drive to his static caravan in Borth.
Professing to be a ‘big supporter of the Welsh language and culture’, the PM noted that despite this, ‘most people’ would continue to use the English term for the park.
And here is the rub.
‘Most people’ didn’t know they had any opinion at all about this until it became the seasonal replacement for ‘Lefties are cancelling Christmas’.
The ‘most people’ that Sunak is talking to are a small number of swing voters in English constituencies whom he hopes can be distracted from the state of the UK’s governance with the threat of a generalised external threat.
See also, Sir Keir Starmer’s ‘deeply patriotic’ Labour Party.
The Mail et al are fond of commencing headlines about the latest example of wokery with the word ‘now’. Here’s the Brownies on the receiving end of this tactic in March.
The effect of this is to suggest that something is retreating in the face of a concerted threat. In the same way that ‘hordes’ of migrants are ‘invading’ Kent, a ‘woke mob’ is besieging everything from traditional children’s pastimes to beloved beauty spots.
Repeated on a daily basis, with a rotating roster of targets, the headlines announce new encroachments into areas of life to which ‘most people’ hold some kind of emotional attachment.
Each day, according to the Mail, new territory is lost.
NOW it’s the Brownies, NOW it’s the Brecon Beacons, NOW it’s Little Britain, NOW it’s hardworking publicans with an innocent penchant for golliwogs.
In the face of such an onslaught, consumers of these stories are ripe for the suggestion that someone must be behind it all.
And this is how the payoff works.
Once everyone from the PM down has been required to pick a side on an inflated non-issue, the big reveal can be made that ‘extremists’ who oppose the UK government are behind whatever change is being proposed.
Moreover, these infidels have links to people for whom YOU might be considering voting. Here’s the Daily Mail again explaining how changing the name of a National Park should result in the reversal of devolution.
The Woke Scare is a creature of the first-past-the-post electoral system. UK governments enjoy virtually no checks and balances on their power whilst in office.
This luxury, however, becomes a curse when things go so wrong in the country that failures can no longer be denied.
Under these circumstances, the last bullet in the gun is to try to pin general discontent on minor, emotive issues that can be ascribed to public institutions the government can disown.
The Welsh and Scottish governments, the Civil Service, the Judiciary, the BBC, the RNLI, the National Trust etc. have all been lumped in together with the Duchess of Sussex and strikers to create the impression that the catastrophic decline in British living standards is not the fault of those who have been running the country for the last 13 years, but the result of their sterling efforts being undermined by a network of mysteriously powerful dissidents.
Government by conspiracy theory didn’t end well for Donald Trump and polls suggest that that it won’t work for Sunak’s Conservatives either.
The truth remains, however, that the decision will lie not with the general will of the people but with a handful of voters in swing constituencies to whose assumed prejudices the Establishment has relentlessly pandered to the exclusion of all other interests.
You can find the more of Ben’s writing on Nation.Cymru by following his links on this map
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