In defence of the Guardian-reading Tofu-eating wokerati


Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman speaks up for a much-maligned minority



OK I can think of a fair few minorities in more urgent need to mount the barricades for. And yes, it's easy to mock, or if the intellectual fancy takes us critique too.  But when Suella Braverman, of the planeful of refugees and asylum seekers jetting off towards deportation to Rwanda dream, uttered these words her politically malicious intent was obvious to all, or at least it should have been.  

Guardian readers, lower-case liberals and for the most part middle class too. At a recent Labour Party event in Lewes where I live which Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland spoke at the audience was asked how many read the paper. Almost the entire room of 200 hands went up in the air. We all had a good laugh at our own expense, but then this is a town which boasts not a single Tory councillor and hasn't had one in years. The Labour Party, currently enjoying a surge in membership, has a longstanding problem of a narrowing social base of those who join. This certainly needs addressing, but if it is done as some would seem to advocate from the workerist  left as an act of class conscious  self-harm, another Guardian reader, no thanks, what precisely does this achieve? 

Suella knew exactly what she was doing when she conjured up her trilogy of targets. This was a nakedly right-wing populism to seek to pin liberal values, environmentalism, anti-racism on a middle-class sock puppet and give it a good bashing. But all three have an actuality of support  which is cross-class, politically plural and of a magnitude which is her worst nightmare. Hence her, and others, ambition to stereotype and in the process marginalise the opposition.  

Britain has changed hugely from the days of Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher and other purveyors of this kind of right-wing populism. Nigel Farage did his worst to resurrect it via UKIP and Brexit. But the true success of this campaign belongs to the brilliant manoeuvre of Dominic Cummings to pitch the referendum vote as 'Take Back Control ' v s 'Remain, keep everything as it is'. In the process exposing a Guardian-reading liberal shortcoming, an inability to engage with the reasons why others might disagree with our particular world view in order to construct a populist progressive bloc. that includes those who retain their misgivings. Remain? Leave it as it is, an institution with next to no popular support, let alone popular identification with, across British society, was a campaign doomed to failure from the start. A self-referential liberalism at its worst.  

But there is another way. I religiously read the Guardian from the sports pages backwards. Every day whatever is on the front pages I turn to the match reports, sporting commentary, news and opinion first. Here I read, Jonathan Liew in particular, writers who by exploring the indivisibility of sport from the political help to construct in my mind and political practice the basis of a radical-popular politics. Carrying out  Stuart Hall's maxim so vital for any such project  It is through culture that processes of social change make themselves most dramatically visible." The most Europeanised institution in English society? A Premier League football club, increasingly Championship and lower divisions too.  Manager and coaching staff, players, sponsors and advertisers, fan-base, 'getting into Europe' the ultimate competitive ambition for clubs and fans, the Euros second only to the World Cup the ambition for England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. Tap into this and Leave would have lost, the failure to do so and posing the alternative as the uncritical, status quo, wrapped in an EU flag hitherto only seen in public worn by the European Ryder Cup team - yes, another popular dimension missed - Remain doomed to defeat.

Race, national identity and Englishness, the break-up of the Union, globalisation, petro-dollar funded soft power, in Stuart Hall's words through sport made 'dramatically visible'. Debating the complexities of transgender women's rights vs all women's rights minus the overheated polarisation which only serves to obscure and obstruct. Or to get a tad philosophical as the Qatar World Cup fills the Guardian sports pages, page after page, be I ever so humble a rather good article situating  the tournament both historically and betwixt universalism vs cultural relativism. All of this informed by what should be the foundation of a radical politics, the cultural and social indivisible from the political and economic.  The Guardian as a newspaper does this better than most, getting up the nose of both reactionaries and class reductionists.   

A bit woke? Yes can be, the self-referential does no cause any political favours. But at its best, connects the popular to the political to help us understand, and act. Give me that over either  Suella's hateful stereotyping  or an overdose of liberal guilt every time. So no Suella I'll stick with the Guardian-reading wokerati if you don't mind. But there is one item on her list I'm in agreement with. Vegetarian yes, but I really can't stand tofu.


Further Reading

Anthony Barnett The Lure of Greatness: England's Brexit and America's Trump  

Stuart Hall  Selected Political Writings


The Philosophy Football Guardian-reading Tofu-eating Wokerati T-shirt range is available from here


Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football