I may well have been wrong. It is possible.
At one time I would have said that whilst the USA had its culture war here in the UK there was no such thing. Any such war was was over and we had lost it before we began fighting. All that remains were a few hold-outs waging guerilla campaigns against the establishment elite who control every aspect of UK society. I’m not so sure now.
From the ’60’s onward we experienced a takeover of society by the same standardised outlook. ‘Progressive’ values are daily pumped into our homes by the media, print and broadcast. These are also the views of the major political parties who hold to only slightly nuanced versions of the same cultural ideology. The mainstream Christian denominations, despite real theological differences, articulate and practice the same progressive responses to social and moral ills.
In last week’s by-elections in Clacton and in Heywood and Middleton the main parties met with a mighty shock. UKIP won Clacton from the Conservatives and in Heywood and Middleton Labour just scraped home with a majority of 617. Both seats had previously been considered safe. Whilst considering most of UKIP’s programme to be vacuous, weak in analysis and short of detail it is heartening to see the establishment shocked into reality.
The insiders set the pace, established the parameters of debate and created the atmosphere. In these two by-elections the people, for once, said ‘No’.
We have been enmeshed in a monolithic progressive establishment holding everything in its thrall. They seem to live on some distant planet where the everyday concerns of earthlings do not impinge on their gilded lives; or if the hoi polloi are ever heard they are dismissed out of hand. This was perhaps best expressed by ex-Conservative MP Matthew Paris. When commenting on the likelihood of UKIP winning the Clacton by-election he wrote, ‘I’m not arguing that we should be careless of the needs of struggling people and places such as Clacton. But I am arguing – if I am honest – that we should be careless of their opinions.’
The establishment elite hold the people in contempt. We have witnessed in our lifetimes large scale social, economic, aesthetic and moral disruption, and been blithely assured that this is an advance, an improvement, progress. To express dissent was, prior to last week, to find oneself marginalised. When ordinary working people voiced concern about the nature of immigration into the UK they were described as ‘bigots’ by Labour and ‘loonies and nut cases’ by the Conservatives. To the increasingly irrelevant Lib Dems anyone expressing the concerns of ordinary people was racist, homophobic and probably fascist.
The usual term of denigration for UKIP has been ‘populist’. Appealing to the people and expressing their concerns is the ultimate low in the minds of our elites.
Both main parties found out last week that they can no longer rely on the tribal vote. Those who have always voted Conservative or Labour cannot be counted on to vote blue or red no matter who stands, what they promise or who leads the parties. With good reason the people don’t trust the politicians.
It is almost amusing to witness both main parties making sudden reversals in policy direction in order to hold back UKIP. Today Boris Johnson, mayor of London, says, ‘The Conservative Party must tighten up border controls to win back voters from UKIP’. Yet in 2012 in the midst of describing British workers as ‘lazy’ Johnson had called for an amnesty on over-stayers. He also criticised his own Government’s immigration cap with a warning that key firms were becoming increasingly ‘hacked off’ with the restrictions on overseas workers and that any cap was ‘damaging to business’.
Labour for their part are appalled that the working class voters whose allegiance they rely upon are actually deeply concerned about a completely different range of issues from that which exercises the bourgeois elites running Labour. We even found Ed Miliband, the day after the by-elections, shamefacedly admitting, ‘It is not prejudiced to be concerned about immigration‘.
But its not just about immigration, its about society and its direction.
Were the by-elections victories in a UK culture war? It’s doubtful. Is UKIP going to be the standard bearer for a resurgence of social conservatism? I hope not.
What has happened is that those who have found themselves marginalised and dismissed by progressive society have been given encouragement to fight back against the machine. That includes Christians.
Presented with the picture of a declining Church in the midst of a confused culture we are too inclined to despair. We forget that initially the Church grew and flourished in the midst of an antagonistic pagan culture, not too dissimilar in its moral relativism from what we know today. The Church can grow again; and a vibrant, engaged Church is needed by unbelievers as well as believers.
Today’s political disenchantment, even insurrection, is no more than a sign of the disillusionment of many with our culture. The response to it cannot be confined solely to the political, it must go to the heart of the matter.
As people generally become aware of the failures of a secular progressive society we are presented with an opportunity. Our response must avoid either the woolly liberalism which has waffled the Church into dramatic decline, or the aggressive evangelical theocracy which demands submission across the board.
We can, with prayer, trust, hard thought and work, make real a church today which is modelled on the New Testament Church; engaged, creating caring communities, embodying the love of Christ, a Church determined and willing to turn the world the right way up again.