Growing up in Leeds in the 1980s and 1990s, I was struck by the lip service paid by politicians to equality while, in the real world, children from disadvantaged backgrounds were being let down.
At my comprehensive school, we had lessons in racism and sexism, but there was too little effort ensuring everyone had a grasp of maths and English.
Leeds City Council – run by Labour and where Jeremy Corbyn’s former campaign chief Jon Trickett cut his teeth as leader – opposed the introduction of school league tables and anything else that might help children from poor families do better in class.
Leeds was not alone. Many other councils considered high standards in schools to be secondary to their political projects – or even worse, they treated such efforts to raise children’s horizons as elitist. And since then, I have witnessed the spread of misguided, wrong-headed, and ultimately destructive ideas, which, sadly, have become steadily more prevalent in many aspects of British life.
Take, for example, Labour-run Birmingham City Council. It recently announced plans to give six new streets names such as Diversity Grove, Respect Way and Humanity Close. Do councillors really think that names alone pave the way to real change?
Too many people have jumped on this woke bandwagon and lost sight of what most people want: a life in which they can live happily in a secure home, work in a good job and send their children to a decent school. Rather than engage with these priorities, the Left has been swept up by a warped ideology and all its bizarre obsessions.
As a result, there is a misguided emphasis on policing our vocabulary so as not to offend, rather than policing our streets. And the woke brigade is angrier about the ‘sins’ of historical figures rather than trying to make a better life for those who live today.
Their answers are to introduce quotas, diversity agendas and so-called ‘unconscious bias’ training.
But these crudely treat people as part of groups rather than as individuals. What’s more, those who do not fit in their cultural box-ticking – for example the white working class – are, in effect, written off.
And despite their stated intention to improve society, I am convinced that these dehumanising, disempowering and dysfunctional ideas do nothing in practice to make life fairer. Those behind this pernicious woke culture see everything in terms of societal power structures. To these zombies, truth and morality are merely relative.
The great irony is that with this moral blindness, the Left has allowed insidious practices to threaten equality. For example, it has failed to defend the single-sex spaces that were won by the hard work of women over generations. It has allowed the spread of antisemitism. It has allowed the appalling grooming of young girls for sex by elder men in towns such as Rotherham.
It is vital that things change. The way forward is to ignore the Left’s empty gesture politics and give people more control over their lives. Compared with very many other countries, we can be proud about how far society has developed. Britain is more colour-blind and less sexist than ever.
That said, we cannot be complacent. Families, especially those living beyond the South East, face serious hardships. Equality should be for everyone, not just for those groups that the Left deems fashionably worthy of such attention.
What we don’t need is the type of patronising feminism symbolised by Harriet Harman’s notorious ‘pink bus’, which was driven around the country during the 2015 General Election campaign. It often repelled the female voters it was meant to woo.
Let us not listen to a party that claims to champion women but which has never elected a female leader. The reason the Tory Party has had two female leaders and now has the largest ever number of people from ethnic-minority backgrounds in Cabinet is not because of positive discrimination, but down to positive empowerment.
This Government was elected to level up the country – to fix the scourge of geographic inequality and ensure equal opportunity for all. This will not be achieved through identity politics, virtue-signalling or any other kind of right-on posturing.
It can only be done if politicians are in touch with the real issues people face in their daily lives. This is a task already under way in government. The Treasury has made it crystal clear that it will assess all future big spending projects in order to guarantee that Ministers spread investment across Britain as part of our policy to level up the whole country.
We are creating more free schools, a form of education which has already done more to help poor children get on in life than any number of diversity training sessions. This Government is giving poorer kids a fairer shot at getting to university by boosting fairness. Extra measures will be used for next summer’s GCSE and A-level exams in England, such as more generous grading, advance notice of exam topics and additional papers, to make up for the disruption faced by students during the pandemic.
We are behind policies to help young people get on to the property ladder, following in the footsteps of the housing revolution implemented by Margaret Thatcher, which changed the lives of countless people by giving them the right to buy their own council home.
While the Left just talks about equality, we are doing something concrete: beefing up the Equality and Human Rights Commission under new leadership, with crossbench peer Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Left-leaning journalist David Goodhart, digital entrepreneur Jessica Butcher, media charity head Su-Mei Thompson and former Royal College of Surgeons of England president Lord Ribeiro.
They are not hidebound by groupthink. Instead, they are committed to equality and ending discrimination. Equality must be for everyone, not just whoever might be among the Left’s current set of obsessions.
Our mission is to improve people’s lives across the country, no matter who they are. That’s the only fair way to build a better society.