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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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era