Government pursuing ‘pathetic’ anti-woke agenda, says Tory peer

Andrew Woodcock
·2 min read
<p>‘Ridiculously provocative’: the ex-culture minister slammed new laws to protect historic statues </p> (Getty)

‘Ridiculously provocative’: the ex-culture minister slammed new laws to protect historic statues

(Getty)

A Conservative peer and former minister has accused Boris Johnson’s government of pursuing a “pathetic” anti-woke agenda.

Former culture minister Ed Vaizey singled out housing secretary Robert Jenrick’s launch of legislation to protect historic statues as “ridiculously provocative” and said the government should instead “lean in” to modern debates over social and racial justice.

He hailed new US president Joe Biden as “woke in the best way”, fostering diversity while also celebrating American traditions.

The comments come amid accusations that the Johnson administration is seeking to whip up a culture war over issues like the vandalism of a statue of Sir Winston Churchill to hold onto traditionalist voters who might be attracted by right-wing groups like Ukip or Nigel Farage’s Reform UK.

Mr Johnson appeared on Wednesday to try to distance himself from the kind of populist stance represented by Farage or Donald Trump by saying there was “nothing wrong with being woke”.

But Mr Jenrick let rip in an article for The Telegraph, promising to defend memorials to heroes like Churchill and Nelson from “baying mobs”, while omitting to mention slave-trader Edward Colston, whose statue was actually torn down after years of obstruction to attempts to remove it through the planning process.

Speaking to Times Radio, Lord Vaizey said: "The whole kind of anti-woke agenda being pursued by the government is absolutely pathetic.

“I don't know if you read the Robert Jenrick piece over the weekend where he was defending statues, but using ridiculously provocative language. If you'd cut and pasted that and put it in Private Eye as a parody article, nobody would have batted an eyelid.

“And they've obviously gone off to lots of focus groups and discovered that people are sort of a bit nervous about all this debate. But really, they should lean into it. Lord Vaizey said he would describe himself as “woke”, adding: “Maybe I'm not good enough or noble enough to be woke. I want to be woke."

And he said: “Biden is woke in the best way, which is that he celebrates the traditions of America.

“He swore his oath on Lincoln's Bible and swore to defend the constitution that's 250 years old and he had a wonderful 22-year-old poet reading at his address.

“That's what the best of woke is. And that's what the best of both Britain and the US is, which is to celebrate our traditions, to recognise we live in the 21st century.”

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman today declined to say whether the prime minister would describe himself as woke, telling a Westminster press briefing: “The PM is committed to ensuring he can level up and help all communities across society, so everyone can reach their potential.”

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