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1st December 2023

Politically correct me if I’m wrong: Esther McVey, Rishi Sunak, and the contradiction of “common sense”

The Tories’ war on woke has led to Esther McVey – the notoriously far-right MP – being appointed as “Common Sense Minister”, calling into question the true intentions of the war on wokeism
Politically correct me if I’m wrong: Esther McVey, Rishi Sunak, and the contradiction of “common sense”
Esther McVey via GOV.UK

Political correctness has always been a somewhat comical term. Hilariously marked with a warning sign saying ‘sometimes derogatory’ per Google’s Oxford Language definition, the term finds one of its first traceable origins in Marxist-Leninism before, contradictorily, gaining notoriety for usage by the Nazi regime.

It is a term the Tory party have come to rebuke over the years. They have even developed their own critical vocabulary regarding it, a vocabulary decorated by ‘snowflakes,’ ‘the wokerati,’ and the ever-undefinable ‘cancel culture.’ The Tory party openly admit to hating political correctness, and by extension seems to be fighting for the right to be politically incorrect. Their desire to be politically wrong is itself somewhat funny, as never before has a party fought so passionately for the right to be wrong. On November 17, Rishi Sunak took the vocabulary one step further when he appointed Esther McVey as the ‘minister for common sense.’

The appointment understandably raised a few eyebrows and even more questions. Above all else the question on everyone’s tongues was “What on earth is a Common Sense Minister?” Speculation ran afoot and naturally theories of her role and choice have circulated. Beyond her personality and the timing, the main function seems to be to redefine wokeness to suit the Tory party’s agenda.

The first thing to know about McVey is that she is a tour-de-force of Tory nonsense. She has been (casually condescendingly) labelled a “plain-speaking northerner” already carrying her fair share of controversial baggage. A heavy critic of the Covid lockdowns, and a staunch advocate of stopping children from learning about same-sex relationships, she has even caused stirs within her own party after calling the 2022 Tory budget “socialist.”

Even Jacob Rees-Mogg thinks the appointment is rather silly.

This barely scratches the surface for someone who also business-expensed a professional photoshoot of almost £9,000. Naturally, speculation of her role in the wake of Suella Braverman’s sacking has led to people believing McVey is meant to placate the far-right side of the party. This implies Sunak is himself distanced from the far-right side of the party, which is an inaccurate characterisation of a man that The Economist labelled as “the most right-wing Conservative leader of his generation.”

A new right-wing radical is hardly new ground for the party but her position is. She follows a tradition of increasingly comical titles for ministers including the Minister for Brexit Opportunities, Minister for Levelling-Up, and presumably soon the Minister for Silly Walks, but represents the increasingly dangerous rhetoric of the Tory party.

The Conservative Code of Conduct’s third standard is listed as ‘objectivity’, ironically preaching impartiality in a party that is decreeing any view other than their own as nonsensical. Whilst a code that lists ‘selflessness’ and ‘integrity’ as the first two Tory characteristics should not be trusted, the danger of McVey’s new role is exactly rooted in this manipulation of language.

Wokeness itself is inherently a positive force, regardless of how loaded the term has become. It can be defined as the awareness of inequality and one of its key concerns has always been language. This can be observed in the positive reproach of discriminatory language in institutions over the last twenty years as seen during the University walk-out of many French students last year. By proposing this progress as antithetical to ‘common sense’ the Tory party is not simply regressing but demeaning any dialogues of progression.

David L. Ulin of the University of Southern California rightfully notes how so much of the dialogue around wokeness is rooted in discussion of language and evidencing the inextricable link between words and power. By gradually moving away from the phrase ‘politically correct’ and now away from the word “wokeism” in favour of “common sense” the Tory party’s appointment of McVey is more harmful than the appointment of just another thoughtless politician.

Lee Anderson, deputy chair of the Tory party, has openly admitted the next party’s intentions for the next election is to be rooted in ‘a mixture of culture wars and trans debate’ and McVey’s appointment is a forebearer to this. By labelling their own views as ‘common sense’ the Tories are not actually refuting any oppositional arguments, but instead simply generalising all their (many) critics as nonsensical.

The best move forward is simply to reject these distractingly regressive culture wars. The Tory party has always loved the phrase common sense – it is remarkably English – and this is only heightening the emphasis they are placing on it. At the end of the day, do you really want to be told about common sense by a man who can’t even put on a seat belt?

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