In defence of political correctness

From the Cambridge Union to Jan Moir

Tom's post on Jan Moir comes hot on the heels of the controversial decision to allow the right-wing Dutch MEP and self-professed Islamophobe Geert Wilders to enter Britain and -- ahem -- the Cambridge Union debate last night. The topic of discussion was: "This house believes that political correctness is sane and necessary."

I mention the debate only because I joined the Times's David Aaronovitch and English PEN's Robert Sharp in proposing the rather provocative motion and facing down the trio of Ann Widdecombe, Alex Deane and Will Burroughs (son of Lynette). Our basic argument was that the opponents of political correctness are opposed to progress; they yearn for a Britain of the 1970s or 1980s where offensive words such as "Paki", "nigger", "poof" and "spastic" were part of our mainstream discourse, with peak-time television programmes featuring blacked-up actors on The Black and White Minstrel Show and the racist rantings of Alf Garnett, on Till Death Do Us Part. Is this, I asked in front of 600-odd Cambridge students, what we want to go back to?

The "politically incorrect" brigade are, we argued, simply schoolground bullies who never grew up, never noticed that British society had moved on without them, never acknowledged the positive sea change in the attitudes of British people in recent years. And I am happy to report back that the side of political correctness (which I admit is a horribly loaded phrase, with its suggestion of Stalinist orthodoxy), the side of decency and progress, of liberal and enlightened values, vanquished the conservative and reactionary opposition. (Will Burroughs blamed the problems of PC Britain on "mass immigration" and muttered something about gays having "shorter life expectancies" when Stephen Gately's name was mentioned.) We won the debate and convinced the usually Tory crowd at the Cambidge Union to back the proposition by a margin of nearly a hundred votes.

Some might say the result itself is political correctness gone mad . . .





Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.