Beware the march of liberal thought police

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The Independent Online
'NO FASCISM is attractive, and the least attractive is liberal fascism,' said Ronald Harwood, president of English PEN. As representatives of this country's writers, we had been discussing censorship (yet again). His remark startled me out of my somnolent inertia at the end of a committee meeting on a hot summer afternoon last week.

This oxymoron may owe its effect to provocative exaggeration, but what stopped me in my tracks was the extent to which it was true. It was a new idea to me that there could even be such a thing as liberal fascism. Surely liberal and fascist are contradictory? Yet thinking about it, I realised that this explains my unease about the extreme wings of the liberal ideologies that have shaped my life.

Take the first to influence me: socialism. At 18 I was an unthinking, Conservative, bourgeoise product of boarding school and tennis club, well on my way to a lifetime of fund- raising coffee mornings as the other half of one of the promising young Tories with whom I snogged in the late Fifties.

At 21, the product of an Oxford education, I was less deferential but still politically nave, busy trying to decide whether to bestow my talents on the Foreign Office or the advertising industry. In the event both turned me down and I became a 'daily' for four months, scrubbing the ovens of the rich while they tested my honesty by leaving 10-bob notes under the carpet.

At 23 - married, pregnant - I was working as temporary secretary to a Labour politician. He opened my eyes to the hitherto unconsidered possibility that intelligent people did not invariably vote Conservative. He talked to me, lent me a few books, got me tickets for a couple of debates. My conversion was complete and lifelong. My delight when Wilson's first government was elected after 13 Tory years was boundless.

I felt deep unease when left- wing extremism began to emerge in the Seventies. In 1980 I was at a ward meeting when, with fiendish glee, a clique - were they Militant Tendency? I don't think the word was common currency then - mocked and vilified David Owen, the last Labour Foreign Secretary, who had come to address us. They questioned and derided his commitment to socialism. He has since said it was that meeting which finally impelled him to leave the Labour Party, feeling it had been infiltrated by people whose convictions he could not share. I stayed in the party, but my sense of belonging, my belief in its moral superiority, had been shaken.

The next defining influence on my life was feminism. Its first glad morning, in the mid- to late Sixties, was thrilling. Here were women (not girls) who were no longer content to attach themselves like limpets to some male; who wanted to forge their own lives and earn their own mortgages; who thought - no, dammit, knew] - they were as good as men.

I was shattered when the first separatist or (that word again) militant feminists began to proclaim their hatred of men, when they screeched that all men were rapists (nowadays they would say child-abusers). They called for an end to family life and heterosexual relationships. Instead, they proposed artificial insemination and rearing children in all-female communities. These women were feminists, yet they behaved like racists, condemning an entire gender without discriminating between the vicious and the decent. My sense of sisterhood was shaken.

I excused them by telling myself that no new cause or movement can overcome the inertia of the status quo unless it has a militant wing. These antics, I believed, were necessary to achieve our minimum demands: equality of jobs, pay and opportunity. Common sense and biology decreed there wasn't a chance that male/female relationships would be abandoned.

The third moral framework crucial to me is a conviction that language makes us uniquely human. The written and spoken word are essential if people are to think and reason. Language is threatened by the tide of commercially motivated verbal slurry drowning the voice of reason and replacing it with the splutter of the lowest common denominator in pursuit of profit.

Political correctness is also a threat, creating a language that bears as much relation to the way ordinary people express themselves as Legoland does to real life. But its lunatic constructions won't solve any problems of any prejudice and certainly won't create nicer, kinder, friendlier people. The thought police who want to change the way we describe the world and those of its denizens who don't conform to the average are liberal fascists of a new and disturbing kind.