IT WAS all going so well.

Women, homosexuals and ethnic minorities — in the West — seemed to be moving inevitably towards parity with the people who had always presumed to know better, from the last century seamlessly into the present one.

A female British Prime Minister in 1979, a black American President in 2009, more gays than you could shake a rainbow-striped stick at on prime-time TV — all of them pulling down the barriers one block at a time.

Right-wing bigots defending the old order looked increasingly ludicrous and desperate.

And then Woke came along and it all went wrong.

First they came for our fond memories of television, which had seemed such an innocent babysitter at the time.

Fawlty Towers (mentioning the war), The Dukes Of Hazzard (Confederate flag), Brum (the mischievous car who “may reflect language and attitude of the 90s”) and Songs Of Praise (Cat Lewis, a producer of the programme and self-professed “campaigner for a better world” tweeted of Rule Britannia: “Do those Brits who believe it’s OK to sing an 18th century song about never being enslaved, written when the UK was enslaving and killing millions of innocents, also believe it’s appropriate for neo-Nazis to shout, ‘We will never be forced into a gas chamber?’ ”)

Then they came for cartoons.

On the Disney streaming service, Dumbo, Peter Pan, Lady And The Tramp and The Jungle Book are preceded by the dire warning: “This programme includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures — these stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now.”

Then they came for the music.

In the winter of 2020, the BBC announced that the audience for sweary Christmas favourite Fairytale Of New York would be segregated; older listeners could hear the original on Radio 2, while over on Radio 1 the word “faggot” would be removed lest it offend tender young ears.

There’s the whole weirdness of Woke right there — old people want the unabridged version while youngsters want the censored one.

It’s meant to be the other way around — if rock and roll was invented these days, old people would be out there dancing to it and young people tut-tutting about how offensive it was.

They came for the museums (the Natural History Museum’s Charles Darwin collection because he had voyaged to the Galapagos Islands in the course of “colonialist scientific expeditions”) and they came for the old houses as the National Trust appeared to have mistaken itself for the National Front when it published a list of nearly 100 properties under its management which it claimed had links to slavery and colonialism.

They came for full stops, which intimidate young people when used in social media communication because they are interpreted as a sign of anger and insincerity, according to linguistic “experts”.

They came for the female genitalia. A college in Michigan decided to cancel its production of The Vagina Monologues because it was discriminatory, given that “not all women have vaginas”.

They even came for the rainbows, when someone called Kirsty Conway complained in the summer of 2020: “Not long after lockdown was imposed, I was pleasantly surprised to see a rainbow flag on my drive home from work.

“However, as I saw more rainbow flags I quickly realised that these were not intended as support for the LGBTQ+ community, but rather as support for the NHS.

Losing free speech is the end of a world — the world of freedom and fearlessness

“I couldn’t help feeling that taking the rainbow flag, which has been a symbol of LGBTQ+ pride and protest for more than 40 years, and repurposing it to represent support for the NHS, was at best thoughtless, failing to consider what this symbol means to our community, and at worst an act of erasure, sending a message that LGBTQ+ rights are not considered important.”

Racism was the big one, suddenly detected every- where, a parallel deadly virus.

Master bedrooms were racist. Chessmen were racist.

Brunch was racist, according to the actor Alan Cumming, reeking of “white privilege”.

Sherlock Holmes was racist, the countryside was racist, fried chicken was racist, the anti-racist film In The Heat Of The Night was racist.

As the One Little Indian record label became One Little Independent, the whole lazy lip-service aspect of virtue-signalling was summed up gloriously by the NME headline: One Little Indian Change Name To Help Fight Racism.

Yep, that seems sensible — never saying the world “Indian” again will surely defeat one of the greatest evils on earth.

Hawaiian shirts, camping, gardening, biking, hiking, jogging, mathematics, trees, botany, libraries, roads, lawns, soap, craft beers, peanut butter, dieting, wine, spelling, Thomas The Tank Engine, robots, interior design, surfing, hockey, the Smurfs — ALL RACIST!

I’ll leave it there but it’s a fair bet that by the time you get to the end of this piece, something else that made you think or laugh will have been cancelled or castigated for fear of attracting the wrath of a group of people who appear to have a deep distrust of thinking and laughing.

Monstrous regiments of Violet Elizabeth Botts have joined the Stasi and started up a series of deranged sideshows, detracting from the very real ills of a society with a risible level of social mobility all across the colour chart — white working-class boys do worse in education than any other group, don’t forget.

The star turn of these witch trials is JK Rowling, who has nothing to do with racism but who has attracted the considerable ire of the small, well-financed, extremely loud trans lobby, who have never seen a drama that wasn’t about them, even if it was the killing of a black man in Minneapolis.

After a period of attempting to placate the geek chorus, Rowling was recently reborn as a fearless and funny feminist who responded to the proposed book-burning of her Harry Potter bestsellers with: “Whenever somebody burns a Potter book the royalties vanish from my bank account.

And if the book’s signed, one of my teeth falls out.”

That the Harry Potter actors who turned on her are from privileged backgrounds while as an impoverished single mother she once worked writing Harry Potter in cafes (and went on to drop from billionaire to mere multi-millionaire status due to the sheer amount of money she gave away) made the situation even more grotesque.

Selected fragments of pre-Woke culture may be allowed to survive — but only if it has been re-booted to take all the nasty bits out

I don’t think the fact that Rowling is self-made and they’ve been feather-bedded all their lives is completely unconnected with this wrangle — the more privileged people are, the less they understand how women without money are vulnerable to male incursion.

In the interests of harmony and time-saving, shall we just cut to the chase and ban everything — every book, film and TV show, reinstating each one in turn only when a worldwide referendum has established that no one in the world is offended by them?

Because surely if some people are offended by a statue of a man who led the armies which defeated Hitler (see the protests at the Churchill statue), then they can be offended by anything.

Think about it — Swan Lake has the good white swan and the bad black swan, David Bowie had sex with under-age girls, Manet used prostitutes, John Lennon used the N-word and Dickens was mean to his wife.

Selected fragments of pre-Woke culture may be allowed to survive — but only if it has been re-booted to take all the nasty bits out, and can now slip down like that unctuous stuff in cans they give to old people who can’t eat any more. (No teeth, please, we’re skittish!).

In these stupefyingly censorious times, those who yearn to burn books but are frightened of fire can always destroy them another way — by re-framing them so blandly that no one will ever want to read them.

There will be a huge void where truthful, exciting entertainment used to be.

But I’m sure that Generation Bedwetter can easily replace it with ukulele solos and social-distanced dancing flash mobs. Let’s give it a try — everything must go!

The day may soon come when the Woke wake up and realise that they are the new establishment and their belief system is just another way of corralling and controlling the masses

Because it’s not like burning books ever leads to anything bad, is it?

But seriously. Losing free speech is the end of a world — the world of freedom and fearlessness which is the only world I want to be part of, a world which won’t return once banished.

I would rather be a pariah in the tiny minds of the Woke — even though they increasingly hold both the floor and the purse strings — than be sundered from the greater part of humanity that still has the guts to say the Woke emperor has no clothes and is waving his “girld**k” in our faces out of sheer ill-tempered triumphalism.

The day may soon come when the Woke wake up and realise that they are the new establishment and their belief system is just another way of corralling and controlling the masses who, if not constantly belittled, might themselves wake up and find that, even without the privilege, they certainly have the numbers.

Because we don’t have to live in an atomised world where every thought is an “ism” and every person an “ist”, where we’re all furiously beeping our horns at each other as we kill time stuck in the cul-de-sac of identity politics.

The human spirit (yes, that old thing) could rally at the eleventh hour and we might awake from our sleepwalking.

And then we’ll think, “It was all a horrible dream!” as we gaze around dazedly at each other, strangers and good companions, on a piece of rock hurtling through space, going somewhere, together.

Welcome To The Woke Trials: How #Identity Killed Progressive Politics, by Julie Burchill (Academica Press) is out now, £24.95.

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