Got a feeling ’21 is going to be a good year

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Mark Lehain
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It would be completely understandable if everything seemed a bit bleak amidst the lockdown lows. Right now things really ARE pretty rubbish, and in lots of ways they’re going to get worse before they get better.

That said… if we can suspend the gloom for a bit and look beyond lockdown, there is every reason to think that post-COVID things could be a whole lot better than they were before the pandemic struck.

We’ve heard lots – rightly – about all the mistakes the UK government has made in its decisions dealing with coronavirus. Stopping-and-starting the economy, opening-and-closing schools, shutting-and-opening borders – things have been ever-shifting. And that’s before we even think about the huge infringements on our liberty, with us confined to our homes by law for much of the time. It’s been chaotic and confusing, and dominated the news and our lives.

However, in other ways great steps forward have been taken.

2020 saw governments, individuals, businesses and other organisations start to shake off divisive ideas and seek better ways to bring people together. Post-pandemic this is going to be even more important as we rebuild our lives, and I’m confident that 2021 will see even more positive news in this regard.

Let’s consider this all in a bit more detail.

Last year the UK government finally took a stand against a number of bad ideas that had previously gone unchallenged. Amidst the wave of reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement it told publicly funded bodies like museums and galleries that they should remove objects from display because of protests. The Commission for Race and Ethnic Disparities was set up to take an analytical look at the experiences of groups of people, using evidence and not ideology to better understand differences in health, education, employment and elsewhere.

The Civil Service was nudged to stop putting its staff through unconscious bias training. Schools were reminded of their obligation to be politically impartial when teaching kids. And Kemi Badenoch, Minister for Equalities, gave a number of statements where it was made explicit that the government rejected identity politics and the concepts like “white privilege” and “systemic racism” that come with it.

On top of this, in her role as Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss made a whole series of positive decisions. Alongside negotiating a tonne of trade deals with other countries, she rejected the controversial concept of legal “self-ID” for transgender people, appointed sensible people to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, and gave a stonking speech that dismantled “bad” takes on equality and put forward constructive small-c conservative alternatives.

Outside of government, Keira Bell won her case against the Tavistock Centre in the High Court, and the Cass Review started investigating what the NHS has been doing around gender reassignment. 

Tim Davie took over at the BBC and declared that it needed to do more to reflect the non-southern and metropolitan parts of the country. He also told BBC staff to take impartiality more seriously. 

And at Cambridge University a group of academics organised themselves to reject a worryingly authoritarian policy on “free speech”, and successfully got it replaced with one that actually does what it’s meant to!

I could go on, but you get the idea. And it doesn’t stop there when we look ahead to this year.

The BBC will get a new Chair, Richard Sharp, who is much more sensible on cultural and values issues than the incumbent. He will certainly ensure that Tim Davie delivers on the statements he has made so far. Given the sway that the BBC has on the national conversation, this should not be underestimated.

There is also the launch of a BBC rival, GB News, to look forward to. Overseen by the ferociously independent Andrew Neil, it should shake up the broadcast news sector and will show that there is a market for more impartial, fact-driven journalism – they’re promising news, not views.

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities will issue its first report, and slay some of the sacred cows of the diversity industry. A new “Equality Hub” will be set up – in the north of England – to take a hard-nosed look at where disparities between groups exist and consider why, explicitly rejecting the identity- and grievance-driven approaches that drove things for so long.

In education, organisations like Transgender Trend, Safe Schools Alliance, and Don’t Divide Us (and Campaign for Common Sense!) will continue to challenge those who present to children personal ideology as objective fact. And they’ll do so in the knowledge that the Department for Education will be monitoring to ensure that schools stick to the law on impartiality.

On the issue of historical statues and other objects, there’ll also be new legislation to ensure that these are not removed at the whim of a mob, and that councils and others follow a proper process if they do consider changes.

There’ll be lots more in this vein too. Why? Well, if COVID has shown anything, it is that people want the government and others to focus on bread-and-butter stuff, not trendy issues.

They’re after customer service from companies, not adverts about “white privilege”. For kids to be taught about percentages, not gender pronouns. History respected and added to, not rewritten according to the latest whim.

In the end, good ideas push out bad ones. I think now will prove to be the turning point for woke ideas and practices. That said, we can’t let up or get complacent. It’s such early days in the push back. And those who make a living out of making others feel bad will put up a fight to preserve their incomes and status.

But all-in-all, really and truly, I’ve got a feeling ‘21 is going to be a good year.

Mark Lehain


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