It’s a place that has given him a particular perspective, one he thinks is so clearly common sense that this is what his group is called. But, as Antonio Gramsci taught us: “Common sense is not a single unique conception, identical in time and space.”
Our culture is the filter through which we look at the world. And so a war over culture isn’t a foolish distraction from the ‘real issues’, like wages, public spending or the climate crisis, as people from Tony Blair to political scientist Frances Fukuyama have argued. It’s a negotiation about how we make sense of those issues, over how we interpret the overwhelming data of material reality.
These cultural debates often explode with arguments that can seem abstract to many people, even if they’re vital to the lives of small numbers: changing gender norms ignites a quarrel about trans rights, shifting perspectives on empire mean statues are torn down.
Each issue is important in its own right. But the reason some get so much attention is that they tap through rotting pillars holding up our traditional social hierarchies and allow us to see beyond. Other ways of understanding the world begin to come into view – Raymond Williams called these ‘structures of feeling’. And, gradually, some of these new structures of feeling spread throughout a society and become the new common sense.
That is what conservatives fear the most.
The Common Sense Group
“The Common Sense Group stands for authentic conservatism,” writes its chairman, John Hayes MP, in the introduction to a series of essays by the club’s members, published this May.
“With opportunities provided by Brexit, the time for a refreshed national conversation on the defining issues of our time – nationhood, community, migration, the rule of law and public order – is now,” he adds.
“The battle of ideas has been drawn into sharp focus with the emergence of extreme cultural and political groups, Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion, Kill the Bill et al. – subversives fuelled by ignorance and an arrogant determination to erase the past and dictate the future.
“The expectation of our voters is for a government that, at last, might reflect the will of the people, rather than pandering to the peculiar preoccupations of the liberal elite and the distorted priorities of left-wing activists.
“The business of politics is values – it’s about place, purpose and pride. The Battle for Britain has begun, it must be won by those who, inspired by the people’s will, stand for the common good in the national interest.”
The essays list a predictable set of targets and enemies: human rights laws in general and trans rights in particular, the BBC and social media, immigration and, most of all, something they call ‘wokeism’.