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16 October 2009

In defence of political correctness

From the Cambridge Union to Jan Moir

By Mehdi Hasan

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 . . .

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