4 September 2023

How can Labour navigate ‘culture clash’ divides?

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A new paper examines the challenges for the Labour Party to bridge divides and stop our culture clashes from turning into a culture war. 'Culture Clash', published by Labour Together and British Future, argues that finding common ground and building broad coalitions of support is more than just pragmatic politics – it is the right thing to do on principle.

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Steve Ballinger
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As Westminster returns to work and gears up for an election that will place questions of culture and identity centre-stage, a new paper from Labour Together and British Future examines how we can bridge our divides and stop our culture clashes from turning into a culture war.

Culture Clash: Bridging Our Divides’ looks specifically at the challenges for the Labour Party in engaging with so-called ‘culture war’ issues such as immigration, race, gender, patriotism and free speech. It examines each of these issue individually, arguing that they are substantive areas with genuine points of disagreement, but also that there is room to find common ground. It suggests that on each of these issues the Labour Party can take the lead and need not be wary of doing so.

The paper, by British Future’s Director Sunder Katwala, author of How to be a Patriot, argues that taking a ‘bridging’ approach to such seemingly difficult issues, finding common ground and building broad coalitions of support, is not just pragmatic politics but is moreover the right thing to do on principle.

When political strategists seek “dividing lines” in elections, they mobilise their tribe with an “us versus them” appeal on questions of identity and culture. While that might bring short-term reward, it brings lasting pain. A political system that locks in this dynamic will create a politics of ever-increasing division and mutual polarisation. When identity divides dominate politics in this way, what really matters – whether politicians deliver for the public – can cease to matter.

The paper addresses common mistakes made by progressive parties in the past. These include avoiding difficult debates entirely; doubling-down and fighting the ‘culture war’ that their opponents want; or conceding and sacrificing their values. It argues that instead, Labour and its progressive allies can help to build bridges across our divides – as long as they are prepared to put the work in.

The Culture Clash paper with Labour Together is part of non-partisan thinktank British Future’s extensive programme of engagement with voices across the political spectrum. This includes the August 2022 joint publication ‘An agenda for action: reducing racial inequality in modern Britain’ with Bright Blue, the independent think tank for liberal conservatism.

(Image by Daniel J Schwartz on Unsplash)

Download ‘Culture Clash: Bridging Our Divides’  here.

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