The UK Ministry of Culture really sounds like something straight out of The Thick of It. For those not in the loop, the show is set around the running of a fictional government department. It’s the worst department of the lot, and something similar to the reputation of the real-world Culture Ministry.
Except in the real world right now, the Culture Ministry has turned into something quite sinister. The man at the helm, Oliver Dowden, is generally unknown to the public. After all, who really cares about the Culture Secretary?
Whether we care about it or not, though, Dowden’s department has actually been making waves. We are all living through their turbulence; they’re what the press have labelled a “culture war”.
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Instead of this office following the traditional route of championing British arts industries such as theatres, live music, and sports during the pandemic, they’ve been spouting some of the most troubling, divisive rhetoric we’ve seen in Britain for a while.
Well, since the EU referendum in 2016. So, not too long ago after all. But, hey, that’s the Tories for you.
Anyway, Oliver Dowden and his office of mini-arsonists have been stoking the flames of a culture war for months now. Instead of working hard to help those who fall under his jurisdiction, Dowden has been working hard to alienate them more than ever from society.
Dowden is behind the British flag-waving we have seen dominating the news for months. In March, he announced that all public buildings – including hospitals – should fly the flag; he failed to condemn those booing footballers for taking the knee; and has allegedly intervened personally in a museum’s potential taking down of a slave trader statue.
He is one of those anti-statue-removers, incapable of understanding that times change and so does what we find acceptable as a society.
Flags and statues get most people heated up. When Black Lives Matter protesters pulled down the Bristol slave trader statue, it was a huge deal.
Debates were rife over whether we should pull them all down, leave them all up, or shove them in museums. Nobody could decide on the ‘right’ course of action, and plenty of people reacted viscerally on all sides.
And that’s the point. That is the definition of a culture war.
Oliver Dowden’s Culture Ministry is like a juggling clown standing in front of a burning building. The burning building being Britain, by the way.
As long as the public are distracted, arguing inwards with each other over issues of race, class, and equality, all the better for those in charge. They can get away with handling a pandemic shockingly poorly, playing into people’s legitimate fears and exploiting them to their electoral advantage, as we seen when the Tories won the Hartlepool by-election.
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This culture war is easy to get caught up in. Many of us end up fighting in it without even realising. It works as a distraction technique for a whole host of failures and cock-ups by those in charge.
In any other world, the Prime Minister reportedly saying he’d “let the bodies pile high” would have triggered a resignation.
In any other world, the Home Secretary being found guilty of bullying and breaking the ministerial code would have triggered a resignation.
But this isn’t any other world. This is Boris Johnson’s – and we are all living in it.
Dowden, who has been at the heart of the Conservative Party since the days of David Cameron, is just as dangerous. In September last year, he threatened to withdraw government funding from institutions that removed objects which are now regarded as offensive. This is all in the name of free speech.
But when it comes to the alternative viewpoint – one that says teaching people to quite literally look up to slave traders is at least morally iffy – they’re filled with “woke bias”, according to Dowden.
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This culture war, which also encompasses class (see: teaching Latin in state schools to make it “less elitist”), has been stoked by some of the most privileged in society to weaponise the public against one another.
Instead of realising that perhaps the enemy is the government of chronic school underfunding, death, and rising child poverty that has been in power for over a decade, we seem distracted by the display of Boris the Clown and Dowden, the sinister Dumbo of this circus show.