Voices: Julia Hartley-Brewer, Andrew Tate, Jeremy Clarkson: In 2023, let’s end the curse of the ‘anti-woke’ bigots

2022 was the year of “anti-woke.” This was the year that saw Elon Musk spend $44Bn on Twitter to defeat “the woke mind virus”, the year of Florida’s “Stop Woke Act”, of the American right siding with Putin over Ukraine because of his “anti-woke” credentials (read, overt homophobia). Woke is in the daily lexicon of both MPs and the press.

Famous bow-tie wearer Tim Stanley accused the literal Conservative Party of going woke in the Telegraph. Education is woke, bikes are woke, the Church of England is woke, seeing a black Santa is woke. It’s hard to find things that someone hasn’t called “woke” this year.

Julia Hartley-Brewer was simply going along with the trend, and with her job description, when she joined in the brief Twitter spat between professional misogynist Andrew Tate and climate activist Greta Thunberg. Of course, Hartley-Brewer joined in on Tate’s side. His more “controversial” views – such as married women being the property of their husbands – can be overlooked as simply taking things a bit too far, perhaps due for criticism at the appropriate time, but necessarily overlooked while his opponents are the hated “woke lefties” like Thunberg.

Normally, even if our mainstream commentators push their outrage-courting antics over the line of public acceptability, there’s barely any pushback – after all, they expect to create outrage and any criticism can be dismissed as simply proving their point. Jeremy Clarkson briefly caused a furore when he used his column in The Sun to say Meghan Markle should be “made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds chant, ‘Shame!’ and throw lumps of excrement at her,” but has not lost any of his various TV presenting gigs over it.

Unfortunately for Hartely-Brewer, a day after she said “I’d choose Andrew Tate’s life *every single time* over the life of a half-educated, autistic, doom-mongering eco-cultist,” Tate had been arrested in Romania on charges of human trafficking, rape and forming an organised crime group. Hartley-Brewer has claimed she didn’t really know who Tate was, branding him “an irrelevance” – for context, Tate has 3.5 million Twitter followers and his TikTok videos have over 13 billion views – and this may be true, but by reflexively opposing Thunberg she ended up associating herself with a dangerous, misogynistic, probably criminal and definitely deeply unpleasant man.

It is called “reactionary politics” for a reason. Hartley-Brewer’s embarrassment was caused by her lack of impulse control, the childish, petulant lashing out that lies at the core of “anti-wokism”. Of course, we would all prefer to have a lot of money and nice cars and not have to worry about boring things like carbon footprints. But as the anti-woke set are so keen to tell everyone at every opportunity, “suck it up, snowflakes.” Life’s not fair and you can’t always get what you want.

The reason us “doom-mongering eco-cultists” say that we need to move away from everyone relying on highly carbon-intensive modes of transport to get around is because climate change is a real thing with real consequences for everyone. Fossil fuel companies spent decades spreading misinformation about it, which was gleefully propagated by journalists in the 1980s and 90s, when it was “political correctness gone mad” that they were railing against, and now we’re living with the results of those choices.

I absolutely understand why people would want to avoid being implicated in devastating floods in Pakistan or droughts and famines in the Horn of Africa. I don’t want to live with the consequences of your choices either, but here we are. “If this were true I would have to feel bad about it, therefore it can’t be true” isn’t an argument.

Anti-wokery in the media has an audience because it’s full of comforting lies: pre-packaged opinions you can easily pick up and use to soothe any sense that something might need to change and that this might be costly to you, personally, in a way there’s no easy getting around.

But “woke,” in its earliest use in African-American Vernacular English, before it was co-opted as a slur, simply meant “becoming woken up or sensitised to issues of justice”. It meant refusing to be soothed by the comforting lies. Even as the term is increasingly spat out with a hard “-er,” the meaning hasn’t changed that much. What’s changed is that large chunks of the media and political class have started explicitly naming “becoming aware of issues of social justice” as a direct threat to their business model.

As such, it’s unsurprising that the mainstream “anti-woke” crowd would find themselves getting closer to the more extreme far right. If your job is to tell comforting lies in service of a politics that actively makes everything worse, you have to keep making even more outrageous excuses for why it’s not working.

It becomes more difficult to justify climate change denial when the UK breaks temperature records year-on-year, so you need to increasingly lean on conspiracism to explain why the real world disagrees with you. If your whole deal is “racism isn’t a problem any more, so anyone complaining about it is just ‘race-baiting’,” you need an excuse to explain away real inequalities in wages and health outcomes, and the far-right’s race science is there to help. As more people meet trans people and find out they’re actually not sex offending “men in women’s clothes” trying to invade your toilets, you’re going to find more solidarity in the far right-wing “anti-gender ideology” networks advocating to roll back feminism than you are in wider society.

Perhaps most importantly, at least as far as the professionally anti-woke are concerned, is the need to shut down any hint of culpability. If climate change really is a problem, then the people who made good money for decades saying it wasn’t have some questions to answer. If the UK’s economic woes weren’t caused by the evil EU, but by politicians closer to home, those who spent years hammering foreigners in defence of those politicians seem to bear some responsibility for the way politics has gone in recent years.

If your entire worldview, your entire sense of self, and the justification for your continued employment is that the left are simply out of touch scolds who are never right about anything, you are going to end up uncomfortably close to every other “anti-woke” reactionary group as you get increasingly desperate to explain away the problems you have been saying are just far-left radicalism for decades.

This process inexorably trends towards radicalisation. The uncomfortable result is that Andrew Tate’s politics, odious and extreme as they are, aren’t as far from something you can read every week in some sections of the UK press as people would have you believe.

As we enter the new year, here’s a suggested resolution for certain sections of the media. Let’s recognise “anti-wokeness” as what it is: a smokescreen for reactionary, misogynistic, racist, homophobic views. Let’s stop pretending that the people who spout this stuff are speaking for some kind of mythical “authentic” man on the street because it makes you feel better about agreeing with them. Let’s accept that the comfort of a small bunch of media commentators isn’t more important than fixing the problems we’ve made for ourselves, be they the climate crisis, racism or industrial-scale misogyny.

If the “woke left” make you feel bad about yourself, and you feel tempted to lash out by siding with someone who advocates hitting women in the face with a machete, or to publish a column threatening sexualised violence against a woman in a national newspaper, just take a deep breath and think “new year, new you”. Julia Hartley-Brewer, Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the “anti-wokes”, you can be better people if you try. I believe in you.