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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Mar-18 > The new culture wars

The new culture wars

New polling reveals a split country: EU Leavers hanker for blunt politicians, while Remainers worry about causing offence. But overall Britain is in no mood for “political correctness”

Arguments about “political correctness” have loomed large in the culture wars of the United States, which have defined American politics for the last generation, if not two. That has been especially so since the election of Donald Trump. With the Democrats questioning whether they’ve alienated white working-class voters by indulging in “identity politics,” no one seems to have noticed that Trump himself—with his nostalgic pitch to ageing white men—is the greatest identity politician of the lot.

It has become commentariat cliché to suggest that Brexit has revealed a great gulf between the educated, urban, liberal elite that holds sway at Westminster, and a great mass of “left behind” voters out in the country. If the caricature holds, it sounds very much like a culture war in the making. But does it?

There has been reporting and social research to explore why some things that are not seen as a problem in the liberal big cities— most notably immigration—are regarded with deep concern in many of the small towns that broke heavily for “Leave.” But social science is only just starting to probe whether “political correctness” has itself become as inflammatory in the UK as it has in the US. Maria Sobolewska of Manchester University ran an experiment on people’s attitudes towards the ethnic diversity of London. She conditioned a sub-sample of respondents with the thought that being positive about diversity was a “politically correct” attitude to hold. Voters who were primed in that way were somewhat less likely to be warm about the capital’s multiculturalism, suggesting that “PC” has some charge as an anti-liberal message.

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In Prospect’s March issue: A series of writers turn their thoughts to the developing war over words in the UK and the US. Lionel Shriver, Afua Hirsch, Simon Lancaster, Hugh Tomlinson, Tom Clark and two students ask if free expression is truly compromised? What’s really going on in our universities? And what do voters think? Elsewhere in the issue: Michael Ignatieff questions why today’s left-wing leaders can’t live up to the high mark set by FDR, Sameer Rahim shows how western powers have been trying to dictate what Islam should be, and Mary Beard asks “How do we look?” as our perceptions of what is beautiful have changes over the centuries.