FINALLY, we’re beginning to get a clear picture of the UK’s Culture War. For years now, the country has seemed riven down the middle, entrenched between one extreme and the other. For a long time, it’s felt as if the battlegrounds of the Culture War were all that mattered – that issues like the economy, the NHS, education and government spending had become subservient to identity politics.

However, the UK’s Culture War isn’t as clear-cut as that – nor is it as politically significant as we’ve thought. The polling company Ipsos Mori has collaborated with the Policy Institute at King’s College London in a first attempt to explain what’s really going on.

The study has found that the nation is split 50-50 between those actively engaged in fighting the Culture War, and those who either couldn’t care less or are in the middle somewhere. Significantly, the biggest bloc is the "Moderates" – the centre ground.

So, while Culture War issues have been parlayed by many politicians to seem the most important matters facing voters, such manufactured fights are really only of significance to around half the population, and most take a measured common-sense approach to these increasingly fractious and toxic rows.

Yet, every day it’s Culture War battlegrounds which make the news: flags, statues, historical racism or sexism in film and literature, trans rights, offensive tweets. The list of fronts in this war seems infinite.

The new research shows that Britain is firmly divided into four camps, not two: Traditionalists, Progressives, Disengaged and Moderates. Here’s how the camps break down:

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1, Traditionalists – 26 per cent of the population

The oldest group – mostly 55 and over; 61% are men. This group is both patriotic and nostalgic for the past: 79% are proud of Britain, 71% proud of empire, and 61% want Britain to “be the way it used to be”. Some 97% believe “political correctness has gone too far”. A majority thinks “people are too easily offended”. Traditionalists are much more likely than other groups to believe women’s and ethnic minority rights “have gone far enough” – 47% think the same about trans rights. Traditionalists are the only group with a majority – 56% – opposed to Black Lives Matter.

2, Disengaged – 18%

This group has the highest proportion of women – 58%. Its biggest block at 40% is the 35-54 age range. It has the lowest number of degree holders, just 14%. This group is exceptionally neutral – 44% support no political party; 37% say they’re neither Leavers nor Remainers. On the issue of “whether equal rights for ethnic minorities have gone far enough”, 75% say they neither agree nor disagree, or don’t know. They’re the least inclined to take a position on Culture War issues. When asked whether the British Empire “is something to be proud or ashamed of”, 60% say neither or don’t know.

3, Progressives – 23%

The youngest, best educated and most ethnically diverse group; nearly half have been to university. Also the group most likely to think that “expansion of rights for historically less powerful groups – women, ethnic minorities, transgender people – has not gone far enough”. Researchers say “they tend not to be nostalgic for the country’s past nor strongly patriotic” – 59% are ashamed of the British Empire. Some 61% disagree when asked if political correctness has gone too far. Progressives are also most likely “to think the way people talk needs to be more sensitive to those from different backgrounds”.


4, Moderates – 32%

This group is older than progressives and the second mostly highly educated. It’s also the most politically diverse. Researchers say: “On some issues, they resemble Progressives: they support the expansion of rights for women and ethnic minorities – albeit less strongly than do Progressives. On other issues their views are closer to those of Traditionalists. For example, they agree political correctness has gone too far.” Some 40% feel trans rights “have gone as far as they should go”. They’re “proud of the UK, but they tend not to be nostalgic for the past nor very proud of the British empire”. They also “take a middle position between thinking there’s a need to be sensitive to those from different backgrounds and a perception that people are too easily offended”.

Clearly the idea that most of Britain falls into "for or against" camps is wrong. There’s much more nuance – and apathy – than imagined. What’s obvious is that the Culture War is being driven by noisy extremists on both sides. Living as we do in the age of the algorithm which pushes rage, hate and simplicity, the battle between two online extremes dominates, while the more thoughtful centre ground goes unheard.

Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College, points to the fact that when it comes to politics it’s the moderate camp which matters most as it’s the largest group: this silent majority holds the balance of power.

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Perhaps this offers some hope. If politicians realise neither extremist camp can deliver a clear win, then it’s the centre ground which must be actively courted. We had a hint of this at the Chesham by-election when previous moderate Tory voters turned from Boris Johnson’s iteration of Conservatism to the LibDems, seemingly repelled by hardline nationalism and populism. It may also explain the disastrous showing by Alex Salmond’s Alba Party at the polls. What seems true on Twitter is clearly not true in the real world.

Ben Page, the chief executive of Ipsos Mori, points to the UK’s long-held liberal values remaining robust. People of “all shades of opinion”, he says, are both “united on the right to protest [and] do not tend to think 'no-platforming’ people is a good idea”.

It feels as if much of the Culture War has been something of a mirage. While the two hardline camps are bitterly divided, the majority wants nuance and fair play. These truths need to filter through to our political leaders and the media at large so rather than fanning the flames of this war, our society does what the majority wants it to do: debate intelligently and come to considered, unifying decisions which attempt decency for all.

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