Michael Gove wades into culture wars with blueprint to save the Tories
Key UK minister sets out battle lines ahead of next election, with families, economy and battle with ‘radical social change activists’ front and center.
LONDON — “Reports of the death of conservatism are greatly exaggerated,” Michael Gove argued as he laid out his ideal path to victory for the U.K.’s ailing Tories.
In a keynote speech at the center-right Onward think tank Tuesday, the leveling-up secretary took aim at what he called “the radical social activist movement” and argued his Conservative Party should avoid being neutral on the need for “stronger” families.
As debate rages about the future of the U.K.’s ruling party — who continue to trail in the wake of Labour, according to opinion polls — the so-called culture wars took center-stage in his speech, alongside the promotion of typical modern Tory values such as economic growth and the “leveling up” of left-behind communities.
“I dislike the use of the word ‘woke,’” Gove said, referring to the term used by critics to describe those pushing for what they see as an excessive focus on identity and social change.
“Both because it can at times seem to trivialize and render as simply eccentric and amusing what is actually an increasingly powerful and destructive force in our society, and also because being awake to genuine injustice is a distinctive part of the conservative tradition,” he said.
Gove blamed what he called “radical social change activists” for magnifying divisions in Britain, and for “creating an auction of grievance” that encourages resentment towards others
“Where they bring discord, I want to see harmony. I want to bring peace to our cultural war,” he added, echoing a famous line by Tory icon Margaret Thatcher.
Praise for Badenoch
The U.K.’s so-called culture wars often grip debate in the country’s media. The government has moved to introduce legislation promoting freedom of speech in academic institutions, while Tory rising star and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch is a key Tory figure happy to wade into the contentious culture row.
One such example came in a POLITICO interview last week, when Badenoch used the opportunity to slam rewrites to books by the classic children’s author Roald Dahl — which were ostensibly to update the books for modern audiences.
Gove named Badenoch, who he backed when she stood for the leadership in 2022, as one of the “next generation of Conservative modernizers.”
With polls suggesting the Conservatives are facing defeat at the next election, the party is locked in a fierce debate about how to turn around its fortunes and win back key voters — whether before or after the next election, which is likely to take place in 2024.
Part of that debate involves what to do with the tax-cutting, pro-market agenda of the short-lived former PM Liz Truss, whose ideas remain popular with the Tory grassroots and some key figures.
In a side-swipe at the ex-leader, Gove attacked “right liberalism, or libertarianism” along with its advocates in his party.
“Recent events have shown both the limitations of its appeal and its effectiveness,” he said.
Alongside culture war issues, Gove used his speech to tackle more familiar territory, such as on reform of the U.K.’s planning system to build more housing and on the need to build a “more resilient, national economy.”
Gove also said his party should prioritize “strengthening families,” which he said represented the “most important institution of all.”
“We know that stronger families mean better mental health, better educational outcomes for children, happier lives and more secure communities,” Gove argued.