Sunday, February 23, 2020
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With Tory Big Brother watching, how can anyone ever ask for a date?

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READERS may have seen actor Laurence Fox’s push-back on all things ‘woke’ on the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday night. 

It prompted a flurry of Twitter pundits to wonder whether we conservatives are finally winning the culture wars. Ex-Ukipper Patrick O’Flynn says: ‘First Ricky Gervais, now Laurence Fox. These are emperor’s clothes moments. The Woke Orthodoxy is having a terrible year.’ 

Except that there’s still a group of people who haven’t caught up with the fact that the British are tired of woke. They’re called the Conservative government. Yes, I know there is a tanker to be turned around. But it should be possible for individual MPs, put in charge of individual initiatives, just to say ‘No’. They may be losing the war in the media and on the social media, but the ‘Woke Orthodoxy’, as O’Flynn calls them, will be enjoying a last laugh for as long as the Conservative government continues to roll out its various agendas.

The latest initiative being promoted by the Government Equalities Office (GEO) and Victoria Atkins MP is to police our conversations in the workplace. Yesterday the GEO announced that it is conducting a survey which will ask about experiences of sexual harassment at work. Victoria Atkins goes so far as to describe those who have experienced sexual harassment as ‘survivors’. She wants to ‘stamp it out’. 

How are any of us ever going to be able to ask anyone out for a date if we fear it will be construed as sexual harassment? Perhaps the state can pair us up? In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley had the state bearing our children for us. It also discouraged monogomy. People drifted together for a bit of companionship and then drifted apart again. Loneliness was alleviated by pills.

Back to our own brave new world. The GEO says that the Government has committed ‘to tackle sexual harassment at work, including a new statutory Code of Practice so employers better understand their legal responsibilities’. The impact of this sort of stuff is already well under way. A young woman told me recently that in her workplace, fewer than five people are allowed (allowed!) to go for a drink together in the pub after work – but five or more people and the gathering is categorised as a work function and rules about unacceptable behaviour apply. TCW has pointed out that such behaviours may include unintended facial expressions. How to have people wandering off home alone after work on a Friday! How to increase loneliness and isolation! Thank you, woke culture. 


The Government will ‘consult on the evidence base for a new legal duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace’. How are you going to prevent something you can’t really define? What happens when one person’s harassment is another person’s (perhaps clumsy) search for companionship, friendship, perhaps even love?

Maybe readers will say I trivialise harassment. Serious ongoing harassment is of course appalling. But can’t adults and workplaces deal with it without the Government meddling? We already have laws to deal with the worst kinds. Of course some workplaces won’t address bad behaviour, and we have all worked in places which are appalling in all kinds of different ways. But this is a problem of humanity being imperfect. We can’t police everything away. A government may meddle and constrain, and in its attempts to perfect humanity drive us all further apart.

In George Orwell’s 1984, in an incredible act of bravery, Julia handed Winston a handwritten note. It said ‘I love you’. Of course it has always taken courage to reach out to other people. We must all redouble our efforts.  

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Caroline ffiske
Caroline ffiske
Caroline ffiske is a former adviser to the New Zealand Government, served two terms as a Conservative councillor in Hammersmith & Fulham and is currently a full-time mother. She tweets as @carolinefff

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