Wednesday, 4 June 2008


Inspired - very inspired - by John Dixon on LibDemVoice, I want to put a word in for political correctness. I agree with some of the critical things that have been said about it in the Libdemvoice comments - in fact I find myself agreeing with Darrell, James and Asquith all at once. But I don't agree with the conclusion that we should bypass it entirely.

First of all, some of the definitions that have been used feel unduly exclusive to me. Although much of its short life has been unhappy, I prefer to remember that it was born out of a desire to bring about a social climate in which everybody was respected regardless of race, colour, creed, sexual orientation, etc, etc, etc. As far as I am concerned that is still a worthy aim, and I do not myself associate the idea of political correctness with the idea of state intervention or thought policing. That has come about because of a violent and successful campaign by the right wing to use it as a tool with which to beat the left (and a few, a few, lefties who've been too eager to give them cause), not bothering about the fact that many people who are not left wing quite like the idea of respecting other people. You rarely hear the term "political correctness" nowadays except in the phrase "political correctness gone made", or more usually, and ironically, given that those who say it usually regard themselves as the guardians of our language as well as of their rights, "plicrecnessgummad".

Just lately I have once or twice been in a situation of hearing acquaintances who are not notably right wing use the phrase. It has become such a stock that people use it without thinking. I have contested their version of the social reality of the situation. I've said, "I don't think that's fair on political correctness" (in the course of which I pronounce it properly). I point out that political correctness is about respecting people, and in this country discrimination and exclusion of minorities of all sorts is still a far bigger problem than the difficulty some people have with the idea of choosing their words carefully. That appeared to make them think which is a very good thing.

Now, OK, there are idiots on the left who have given the right an excuse to give political correctness a bad name. There are also idiots on the right who, for instance, still maintain that Luton Borough Council tried to ban Christmas despite all the evidence to the contrary, and that Birmingham tried to rename Christmas as Winterval, despite the eloquent rebuttal of a Birmingham press officer: "We get this every year... We tell them it's bollocks, but it doesn't seem to make much difference."

Joining in with the right and denigrating political correctness just because there have been a few loonies on the left misses the point. There is work to be done to prevent people with power from discriminating against people without power.

I would like to call it respect, because to my mind this country has a big problem with respect. It's one of the things I blame Thatcherism for – I don't blame Thatcherism for everything, but I do believe it went much too far in the deliberate destruction of social cohesion. Thatcherism did away with the last vestiges of the deferential society – a very good thing – and then went a lot further and threw respect out of the window as well. I would like to work for a return of respect. The trouble is even that simple, honest term is tainted, firstly, and weakly, by Blair's respect agenda – remember that (a good idea but so feeble in its execution)? Secondly and poisonously by its hijacking by the weasel George Galloway. Maybe it would be easier to start talking about respect rather than talking about political correctness – I don't know. What I do know is that when I say to my friends "I want to stand up for poltiical correctness, and here's why", they actually start listening, and that can be no bad thing. I assume it's because the idea is so novel given the constant outpouring of diatribe by the plicrecnessgummad tendency.

So at the moment, purely on an empirical basis, I stand up for political correctness because it works. I am sure that it will continue to be an uphill struggle though, but sometimes you have to dig in and damn well struggle. Things won't change until those of us who believe in respecting individuals start standing up for that belief and are as persistent as those who would denigrate it.

1 comment:

1999/92:17 said...

Have to agree with you. Too oft I've heard the phrase "Political correctness gone mad", usually from some right wing daily mail reader who then regugitates the days venom spewed by Ricahrd Littlejohn or Jeremy Clarkson. As for debunking stories about banning christmas etc I don't know why councils bother. The People who want to believe this propoganda and bullshit are fundamentally deep down bigots