david tennant. image: DavidDjJohnson. CC BY 3.0.

As someone infamous once said (me, need you ask?), ‘The truth is not mediated by the identity of the speaker’. If it were, one could sidestep debate entirely by identifying the ultimate victim status and taking umbrage accordingly. Increasingly devoid of argument, the Critical Social Justice (or ‘woke’) left relies almost exclusively on this tactic. And while such behaviour perfectly explains the HS2-like expansion of the LGBTQwerty community, it does not excuse the vitriol accorded those who humbly suggest we have more pressing concerns than society’s perfect accommodation of genderfluidity and nonconformity. Regrettably, this is a hurdle the right is now failing to negotiate as well.

To say that the sin of identity politics is pervasive would be an understatement. Consider the general election campaign, from which we shall thankfully soon be freed. Rather than political ideas and stratagems, it is the commitment to ‘diversity’ which now poses as a flagship policy. We will be ‘the most working-class cabinet of all time’ coos the Labour Party, while Liz Truss’s Tory administration could be lauded as containing the ‘most diverse Cabinet in history’, as though the benefits of this were somehow self-evident. Even Reform UK is showcasing its ethnic minority candidates, albeit to counter accusations of racism.

Mistaking identity for substance is a dangerous game; not one which should be entertained by any serious individual—and certainly not by any heavyweight politician. When famously asked by Terry Wogan whether male MPs made any concession to the fact that she was a woman, Margaret Thatcher immediately responded: ‘No. Why should they? I don’t make any concession to the fact that they’re men.’ Similarly, Winston Churchill famously remarked that his speech impediment was ‘no hindrance’.

However, they are the exception to the rule. For modern politicians, the allure of playing the victim is almost irresistible. Even our current prime ministerial candidates can’t help it: the knighted multi-millionaire Keir Starmer makes a mountain out of his father being a ‘toolmaker’ and the billionaire Rishi Sunak boasts of his being the first British Asian PM. (Though arguably Sunak’s best performance of the campaign so far was his response to the racial slurs used against him by a Reform UK activist.)

Victimhood now colours every clash of ideas and egos to such an extent that it often supersedes the argument itself. And it was this tangled web of intersectional Top Trumps that overshadowed the recent row between the actor David Tennant and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch.

Picking up an award for ‘celebrity ally’ at last week’s British LGBT Awards, Tennant made the mistake of going off-script in his acceptance speech. Casting around for a suitably progressive topic, he chose to criticise Badenoch for her vocal opposition to trans women in female spaces and sports:

‘If I’m honest I’m a little depressed by the fact that acknowledging that everyone has the right to be who they want to be and live their life how they want to live it as long as they’re not hurting anyone else should merit any kind of special award or special mention, because it’s common sense, isn’t it? … However, until we wake up and Kemi Badenoch doesn’t exist any more—I don’t wish ill of her, I just wish her to shut up—whilst we do live in this world, I am honoured to receive this.’

That Tennant chose to spout this left-wing bile was predictable. That he clearly failed to see the irony of his words was, also, par for the course. But it was Badenoch’s response which concerned me more. Faced with such sneering contempt, she ought to have realised the sympathy vote was already in the bag, and preferably she would have opted for humour: ‘Perhaps the right honourable gentleman had had one regeneration/one Tennent’s Super too many, Mr Speaker?’ Alas, she decided to play him at his own game:

‘I will not shut up. I will not be silenced by men who prioritise applause from Stonewall over the safety of women and girls. A rich, lefty, white male celebrity so blinded by ideology he can’t see the optics of attacking the only black woman in government by calling publicly for my existence to end. Tennant is one of Labour’s celebrity supporters. This is an early example of what life will be like if they win. Keir Starmer stood by while Rosie Duffield was hounded. He and his supporters will do the same with the country. Do not let the bigots and bullies win.’

While it was only right and natural to draw attention to Tennant’s hypocrisy, choosing to challenge him in terms of identity politics was a gross miscalculation. Agreeing to play on the enemy’s turf legitimises their rules—and there is zero legitimacy to this Critical Race Theory (CRT) interpretation of how society ought to conduct itself. What are we to conclude? That Badenoch ought not to be challenged because she is a black woman, or that if Tennant self-identified as one, his argument would suddenly gain credibility? Tennant’s ‘rich, lefty, white male celebrity’ is the least of his problems; his demand that everyone he disagrees with ought to ‘shut up’ is the issue.

Sadly, Badenoch is not alone in misplaying her hand. Even the perennially sensible Douglas Murray let an element of identity politics seep into his piece on the matter: ‘It is hard to think of any other situation in which such intolerant and ugly language would be used, let alone of a black woman.’ Triaging the right to speak or to offend on the basis of identity is not a road we should be dragged down, even kicking and screaming.

Conservatives who consider it wise to play the game of identity are naïve in the extreme. They fail to recognise that the woke left entertains neither consistency nor accountability and that their rules are malleable. Certainly, non-white males are afforded immunity from criticism, right up until they express the wrong opinion; then, all bets are off: Priti Patel is the wrong kind of Asian because of her political views and, similarly, Kwasi Kwarteng is ‘superficially black’.

The danger for conservatives who fall into this trap is that not only are their victim statuses null and void the minute they enter the race, but they also make it harder for the rest of us to simply resist such nonsense. In the case of Badenoch, this is particularly damning—having established herself as a frontrunner for the Tory leadership in 2022 by speaking out against CRT, where does she (and what’s left of the Tories) go from here?

Related reading

Islamic identity politics is a threat to British democracy, by Khadija Khan

‘We need to move from identity politics to a politics of solidarity’ – interview with Pragna Patel, by Emma Park

Liz Truss, the nobody PM: review of ‘Ten Years to Save the West’, by Ralph Leonard

Race: the most difficult subject of all? Interview of Inaya Folarin Iman by Emma Park

Is the spirit of liberty dead in Scotland? by Noel Yaxley

The return of blasphemy in Ireland, by Noel Yaxley

Two types of ‘assimilation’: the US and China, by Grayson Slover

Young, radical and morally confused, by Gerfried Ambrosch

Quebec’s French-style secularism: history and enduring value, by Mathew Giagnorio

In the fight against authoritarianism, the culture wars are a distraction, by Kevin Yam

British Islam and the crisis of ‘wokeism’ in universities: interview with Steven Greer, by Emma Park

‘This rebarbative profession’ – Rory Stewart’s ‘Politics on the Edge’, reviewed, by Daniel James Sharp

The Marketplace of Ideas will always exist. The only choice we have is how to work with it. By Helen Pluckrose

Secular conservatives? If only… by Jacques Berlinerblau

White Christian Nationalism is rising in America. Separation of church and state is the antidote. By Rachel Laser

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