The Prime Minister’s attempt to stop the clock on social progress is backfiring as Britain becomes increasingly tolerant and open-minded, writes Adam Bienkov
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Rishi Sunak is, at least on paper, the most authoritarian Prime Minister Britain has had in modern times.
The anti-protest laws he rushed through before the Coronation led to a series of arbitrary arrests of both peaceful protestors and people who were merely mistaken as being protestors.
His asylum and migration legislation has banned anyone from seeking to come to the UK, aside from by a handful of approved routes.
His anti-strike legislation has sought to limit the right for workers to withhold their labour.
New voter ID laws have led to legitimate voters being turned away from polling stations for the first time.
And, as nations across the world slowly abandon the failed ‘War on Drugs’, Sunak’s Government is instead in the process of putting even more substances into prohibition.
Yet, in almost all of these areas, Sunak’s attempts at a clampdown appear to be having the complete opposite effect to that intended.
Despite new laws banning ‘slow walking’ and ‘locking on’, public protests appear to be more frequent than they have been for decades. Meanwhile, migration to the UK has actually increased to record levels, with reports today suggesting that net migration reached a new record of in excess of 700,000 incomers last year. Nationwide, public sector strikes take place on an almost weekly basis, while illegal drugs have never been more easily available through social media and the dark web.
As the world becomes an increasingly more open and connected place, Sunak’s attempts to drag the UK in the complete opposite direction appear to be hitting a brick wall.
Not only is his agenda failing on a practical level, it is also failing on a political one. Attempts by Sunak to reunite the coalition of older, socially-conservative voters that won the leave vote in the EU Referendum and the 2019 General Election, by dragging his party to the authoritarian right, have so far drawn total blanks among the electorate.
At last week’s local elections, his party suffered its worst set of defeats since last losing office in the 1990s. In contrast, the Labour Party – led by a man the Prime Minister has sought to label as a wishy-washy, out-of-touch liberal – actually advanced most strongly in those areas of the country that Sunak’s authoritarian agenda was most clearly targeted at.
In coastal towns and ‘Red Wall’ seats, voters abandoned the Conservatives and backed the man Sunak sought to label ‘Sir Softie’. As the former Brexit Party and UKIP Leader Nigel Farage recently commented: “I was at a Coronation street party in Kent and I was meeting working-class people saying ‘Nige, you should have been our prime minister’… They were all voting Labour last week.”
Stop the World, I Want to Get Off
Like an end-of-the-pier act without an audience, Sunak’s authoritarianism is failing because it fails to recognise the reality of what the public actually wants.
Although still on balance socially conservative on some issues, the British electorate – like electorates all over the Western world – is gradually moving in a more liberal and tolerant direction.
According to research released this month by the Policy Institute at Kings College London, Britain is now among the most tolerant nations in the world. Of around 20 major countries studied, British people were either the most, or among the most, relaxed about living next to those from other races, religions and sexualities.
So, while Home Secretary Suella Braverman seeks to stoke up fears about immigrant communities not sharing “our values” and the Prime Minister warns of a “woke culture” that wants to “cancel our women”, the electorate is heading in the complete opposite direction.
This shift has led to an inevitable backlash among those most invested in maintaining, or restoring, historic attitudes.
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Tabloid teeth-gnashing about trans rights, ‘woke’ universities and a liberal ‘new elite’ are all symptoms of an increasingly out-of-touch old elite, deeply unhappy about the direction British society is now heading in. As each generation becomes more educated, more liberal and more tolerant towards diversity than the last, the volume of complaints from those being left behind only grows.
It is this paradox which lies behind the increasingly authoritarian direction now being taken by Sunak’s Government.
Like a man shouting ‘stop the world I want to get off’ as it continues to spin unremittingly on its axis, the Prime Minister is refusing to face up to the reality of modern Britain as it now is. Rather than acknowledging the electorate he actually has in front of him, and seek to change his party to match their desires, Sunak is instead focused on ordering the electorate to change their ways instead.
But no amount of authoritarian clampdowns on protest or restrictive laws on the right to strike will alter the basic fact that people now want change and will vote with their feet in order to get it.
Whether its public sector workers unwilling to put up with another decade of falling wages, or young people increasingly alarmed by rising global temperatures, the world will not stop spinning simply because the Prime Minister of one small island in the North Atlantic orders it to.
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