By Roxanna Brealey, BA History and Politics
It was to the surprise of many students that the SOAS Student Union Bar was refurbished over the summer break posing questions on the purpose of it all. It appears that in such a politically driven university, the SOAS administration has to divert attention away from any recent controversies. This affliction can be coined as the ‘politics of distraction’ and is used to divert attention away from more pressing issues by redirecting the populace to other affairs. Perhaps this was the case for the refurbished student bar?
This spectacle can also be seen on a much larger scale. In fact, it is operating in full force within the Conservative Party and has led to the absolute degradation of the UK political sphere. Whilst evident for some time, this political tactic was clearly defined at the recent 2023 Conservative conference, hosted in Manchester. It seemed that the main motivation of this conference was to weaponize marginalised communities as a diversion, rather than addressing the countless difficulties this country faces. For instance, Foreign Secretary Braverman viciously attacked immigrants as if they were the root of all problems in British society. In an attempt to fearmonger, Braverman stated that there would be a ‘hurricane’ of mass migration and that it was her aim to ‘deter bogus asylum seekers.’ It is simply inhumane to demonise individuals who travel great distances across dangerous oceans to escape conflicts, not to mention hypocritical as the UK does not offer a visa route for the purposes of travelling to the UK based on asylum.
Prime Minister Sunak’s closing speech at the conference further solidified the use of the politics of distraction. This time by targeting the transgender community.
Sunak stated that ‘we shouldn’t be bullied into believing that people can be any sex they want to be,’ once more stoking the UK’s war of ideologies to shift the electorate’s attention towards the 0.5% of the population (2021 Government Census). It has been noticed by many that scapegoating the Trans community is concerningly high up on the Conservative agenda, when it ought not to be. Not when Home Secretary Braverman advised police to crack down on pro-Palestine protests, or with Prime Minister Sunak’s popularity hitting a record low.
The reasoning behind this new political tactic is clear. The Conservative Party has little to show from their 13 years in power. They no longer have Corbyn or the ‘Get Brexit Done’ campaign to retain their legitimacy and to distract people from core issues such as the cost-of-living crisis and the record-high NHS waiting lists. Instead, they shift the blame of the wrong-doings of this country on marginalised groups when the clear danger to this country is the incumbent government. The war of ideology is now the only way in which they can derive any authority to rule and if they win the 2024 general election, we will learn that the ‘politics of distraction’ is a successful political tactic.
It may feel as if there has been a jump between the refurbishment of the SOAS Student Union Bar and nationwide politics, but the foundations are alike. SOAS may have refurbished the bar to distract the student community away from larger issues that lie within the institution in the same way the government is utilising culture wars to distract the electorate away from larger issues. This phrase coined the ‘politics of distraction’ is a danger to UK politics as it has full potential to blind some of the electorate from ever truly holding the government to account for the numerous blunders they have committed.