On the 17th December, Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, who is also minister for Women and Equality, gave a speech announcing the government’s new approach toward equality. As part of this announcement, the Secretary claimed that recent governments had concentrated on ‘empty gestures’ such as anti-racism and gender equality whilst ignoring class and regional inequalities. She says that this fresh approach will be based on conservative values and not identity politics.
As part of their plan to combat inequality, the government has come up with several proposals on how to do this. The main one being a pursuit of equality data. She claims they will use evidence and data to help put policies in place that can make a difference rather than having ‘empty gestures’ such as quotas and different meaningless training schemes. This programme will gather data on different ethnic groups and minorities to see why Chinese and Indian children do better in school than their Bangladeshi and white counterparts. They say that this data will help them to identify the barriers that people face progressing in society. It was also announced that they plan to scrap unconscious bias training in the civil service and government. Finally, and not sarcastically an empty gesture at all, they plan on moving the Equality Hub, various governmental diversity and equality departments, to the North of England. If this isn’t an empty gesture that has been done time and time again, then I don’t know what is.
Is this all so bad? Yes, and no. Quotas are only as good as the people that implement them, as are the training schemes. If they become another tick box exercise and fail to take class, or more specifically economic, social and cultural capital into account, then these schemes are just crumbs to the movements that are fighting for more equality. Whilst these initiatives may have been made in earnest in the past, they have become empty because they have not been implemented properly, are poorly funded and are not managed by the relevant groups. Instead, it has become another part of the soulless market-based society we live in. Whilst we may have more women, people of colour, homosexuals and other minorities in positions of power and in the public eye, little has been done to combat inequality and our understanding of it as a society. That is why Black Lives Matter and Pride are important and why many other causes will come to the fore in the future.
The Secretary also claimed that many of the empty gestures had led to an inability to combat inequality. She is right to a degree, but how she reaches this conclusion couldn’t be further from the truth if it tried. She says this has been because of the left’s embrace of postmodernism and French philosopher Michel Foucault. The theories and concepts she is alluding to are mainly taught in the humanities departments of universities, not in secondary schools after PE (indeed, would it be such a bad thing if they taught some critical thinking in schools?) Here Liz is claiming that at school children are being taught more about anti-racism and gender inequality than they are to read and write. You don’t need to be the education minister here to show that it is not a binary choice, whether you teach about societal inequalities or improve student’s comprehension skills, in fact, you can, and should do both.
As for a French theorist being the cause, this is the same fish tale that Dr Jordan Peterson spouts about cultural marxism. Many conservatives just don’t like the fact the people researching societal issues in areas such as psychology, inequality, sociology, biology, medicine and more, find that the cause of many of these problems in some way undermines the neoliberal narrative. They show that we are not all on an equal playing field, that the way society is organised is not fair, and that our system is destroying the planet and hurting our species. I am not sure why they need to collect more data, there is plenty. It’s just that they don’t agree with it. To find the real reason, maybe Liz should look a bit closer to home. It was Margaret Thatcher that said her greatest achievement was getting her enemy to think like her, this was regarding Tony Blair and Bill Clinton both embracing the form of free market economics that she and Reagan introduced during the 80s.
Progressive neoliberalism is used to refer to the period during the 90s and the early 2000s when centre-left parties adopted the liberal economic agenda of the right whilst also addressing the social issues of the changing times. Whilst many of these policies were a good thing (same-sex marriage, equality legislation etc) economic distribution and the regulation of the markets was left well alone, leading to the financial crash of 2008 and the subsequent austerity that followed.
Rampant discontent with material reality and the want for change has spread like wildfire since then. The call for change is something both Corbyn and Brexit supporters have in common (albeit with different versions in mind most of the time). The ideology of neoliberalism and the various fabrics that hold it together have started coming away at the seams. It is holding together because the establishment scrambles support from anywhere possible. This is why the Conservatives are resorting to calls of cultural marxism and the threat of the disintegration of all we hold dear: the community, family, country and normality. Giving the image that your daughter will come home with a 7ft Moroccan transexual, who identifies as a penguin, who will corrupt your family into housing refugees and, the ultimate horror, turn you into a vegan. Of course, this was Jeremy Corbyn’s plan all along: The United Socialist State of Britain +.
Liz Truss later wrote in the Daily Mail some of the same claims albeit with the cultural marxism element missing, but still there in spirit. She claimed the “The reason the Tory Party has had two female leaders and now has the largest ever number of people from ethnic-minority backgrounds in Cabinet is not because of positive discrimination, but down to positive empowerment.” Yet this is the problem with token empty gestures. A few people of colour in positions of power does not make it better for the rest. In fact, it reinforces the narrative that you have to make it in life, and that if you don’t there is something wrong with you as a person. The narrative around equality has been poisoned and whilst it has good intentions at times, it is unrealistic. Equality is trying to get everyone to start from the same place, which unless we have a redistribution of land and wealth, it is going to be hard to attain. Equity on the other hand realises that people start from different places in life and it aims to provide opportunities for people to overcome barriers.
Covid-19 has proven that inequalities of all kinds in society matter. Public Health England reported in August 2020 that you were more likely to contract the virus if you lived in a deprived area, are from a BAME group, are a migrant, and work in an essential occupation such as health care, and transport, or in face-to-face jobs such as construction and security.
The death rate in deprived areas such as London was three times higher than in the South West, which had the lowest rates. London had the highest diagnosis rates followed by the North East, North West and the Midlands. People who caught the disease in these areas were also statistically more likely to have a poor recovery.
People with pre-existing illnesses are also more likely to die from covid-19. High blood pressure, diabetes, dementia, COPD and chronic kidney disease. These illnesses are all higher in working-class people than the upper classes.
Just to note, during the lockdown it wasn’t just about the numbers of deaths. If you are over 80, then you are 70 times more likely to die than someone under 40. However, the largest group of people needing critical care in hospital were between 50 and 70. Only a small number were over 80.
These figures show the real nature of inequalities. Inequalities caused by neoliberal policies. The ideology is trying to cover its own ass. In recent years, these problems have been bureaucratised and people have become cynical towards them. Even in the Labour Party, Keir Starmer’s inability to show any form of moral stance on any issue, let alone inequalities, is causing more anger. So, when people like Liz Truss come out and blame the lack of progress on inequalities on the left, they have a point. It was the lefts embrace of third way economics that led to an embrace of empty gestures, not a French philosopher. By doing this the Tories are getting away with negligence for the last ten years and are making empty promises to communities who have little faith in any politicians. Communities that kept the country going through the pandemic.
On a global level, the Anglo-Saxon world is losing respect in the world. The evidence has been there all along. Starting with the election of Donald Trump, then Brexit and following the poor management of the Coronavirus. It is clear that the West is struggling to remain a leader in the world. Arguably it has been since the falling of the Twin Towers and the War on terror. This is all when compared with the rise of China both economically, but also at a time when the world has been without a reference point for some time. China is leading in technology, economics, and in relations to the Global South.
Cultural Marxism is just a modern-day conspiracy theory that tries to replicate the anti-communist rhetoric of the Cold War, and it has a history in anti-semitism. As Richard Seymour calls it “anti-communism-without-communism”. The mere fact that the populist right are resorting to conspiracy theories and cultural warfare shows that they are struggling to cover over the cracks in the system that they support. After 10 years in power, they still blame others for their failures. Inequalities are not only a failure of neoliberalism, it causes them.