Kammo runs an occasional series called ‘Great Historical Questions to Which the Answer is ‘No’. This week he’s highlighted Ed West’s article, in the Torygraph, which asks: ‘Is Britain the world’s first politically correct totalitarian state?’
This is West:
[T]here are just too many cases of people being arrested for homophobia, racism or other thought crimes for this to be treated as anything other than state policy. Of course Britain isn’t Orwell’s Oceania or Bolshevik Russia yet, but it is a tyranny nonetheless.
Do you know anyone who’s been arrested on such a charge?
There is a strain of British conservatism that is inherently self-pitying and conspiratorial. Ed West is the equivalent of leftists who claim that democracy is no better than fascism. But while such pseudo-radicals are regularly and rightly laughed out of town, anti-PC hysteria is widely accepted in public life. It is unchallenged. It is a major factor in the resurgence of the far right. It will get worse as the recession deepens and the crowd starts looking for people to throw on the bonfire. Political correctness gone mad is the singular mainstream conspiracy theory.
For all their talk about standing up for common sense the rightwing commentariat does seem to be living in an alternate reality. As Kamm noted in another context: ‘It’s at times like this that I realise how oddly unmerited is the reputation of British conservatism for social pragmatism and working with the grain of human nature.’
The Torygraph’s champion of free speech slams Evan Harris for his part in getting the UK blasphemy law repealed. ‘If you want to fight for freedom,’ West says, ‘fight for the peoples’ right to be racist or sexist or Islamophobic or simply rude.’ Now, it’s vital that people have the liberty to make tedious ‘politically incorrect’ jokes. But what is West saying here? That there is no point in freedom unless you use it to say stupid and ugly things? Seriously? Is that all we’ve got?
This transcends politics. The personal slides into the political so easily. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me that because they can’t get a housing transfer or find a city centre parking space we are living under a dictatorship. It’s a huge collective human failure of imagination and proportion and empathy.
In the comments, Tom Chivers puts West in his place:
It’s only 45 years since a Tory party candidate campaigned on the slogan ‘if you want a n***er for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour’. Political correctness might be clumsy, it might go too far, it might occasionally lead to silly situations, but it is infinitely preferable to what went before.
And what is worse is when people start making stuff up about it. ‘Winterval’, for instance, was never about not offending Muslims, but a PR stunt by Birmingham City Council in 1997-98 to get more people shopping, and yet it is brought forth EVERY YEAR as yet another ‘political correctness gone mad’ story.
And saying that Britain is a ‘politically correct totalitarian state’ would be laughable if it wasn’t so depressing that your comments box will fill up with agreement from blustering Colonel Blimps who miss the good old days of untrammelled racism and homophobia.
On that subject, Tom might want to check out West’s next piece, entitled: ‘South Africa is going down the plughole. What do the anti-apartheid campaigners have to say about that?’
Political correctness: to blame for everything