Leading article: Gone mad? Hardly. It's all about respect for others


According to a new book published by the Civitas think-tank, "political correctness" has a good deal to answer for. Among the ills of modern life that are blamed on political correctness by the author Anthony Browne are, in no particular order, suicide bombings, Aids, anti-Semitism, African poverty, poor discipline in schools, exam grade inflation and the ban on fox-hunting. Mr Browne argues that political correctness has prevented our political leaders from addressing certain uncomfortable "truths" such as, for example, the link between the growth of Aids in the UK and African immigration. To give another taste of his thinking, he claims women are paid less than men for the sole reason that they insist on taking time off to have children.

Of course, the book provides no convincing evidence for any of this reactionary bilge. But what distinguishes it a little from other intemperate rants is that it seems to tap into something approaching a zeitgeist. Complaints against political correctness have been around for a long time. Right-wingers have always railed against it. But these complaints have reached a crescendo in recent years. Even some on the political left have now joined the chorus of disapproval.

Political correctness certainly has an image problem. It is widely regarded as an un-British phenomenon, at odds with our tradition of free speech and our sense of humour. But why is this? A large part of the problem is it is subconsciously associated with the hackneyed phrase: "It's political correctness gone mad". To many, political correctness is now "mad" by definition. Yet political correctness is actually a form of politeness. It is not a question of free speech, but simple manners. Refraining from using names that certain groups - whether gays, ethnic minorities, or women - find derogatory is an indicator of civilisation.

The right-wing press delights in ferreting out examples of local councils tying themselves in knots in an effort not to offend. A perennial favourite at this time of year is the renaming of Christmas lights as "winter lights". It is true that some public bodies are overzealous and needlessly scared of causing offence. They ought to exercise more common sense. But we should be thankful that we have a culture in which public institutions scrutinise themselves in this way. Such minor irritations as occur from time to time are surely tolerable. And it is important to remember where we have come from. At one time, boarding houses hung signs that screamed: "No dogs, no blacks, no Irish". Racist sitcoms such as Love Thy Neighbour appeared on television well into the 1970s. It is due, in part, to political correctness that we have been delivered from such unenlightened times.

This newspaper does not believe in stifling free speech. Mr Browne is perfectly entitled to attempt to identify a link between the rise in HIV in the UK and African immigration - just as people are entitled, we believe, to deny the Holocaust. But we reserve the right strongly to disagree with them.

Opposition to political correctness is still very much part of a reactionary political agenda. Tellingly, the vast majority of the stories that appear about "political correctness gone mad" involve dark-skinned ethnic minorities.

Political correctness must be rehabilitated. It should be regarded as a positive phenomenon, with connotations of civility and mutual respect. If political correctness means councils offering rudimentary translation services, if it means teaching children about other cultures in school, if it means local education authorities refraining from painting golliwogs on playground murals, then we are proud to subscribe to it. In fact, let us strive to make Britain yet more politically correct.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

1st Line Service Desk Analyst

£27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23 were killed on the small island of Koh Tao on 15 September  

Now we know whose fault it is if you end up being murdered in Thailand

Chloe Hamilton
Women-only train carriages would be an insult to both sexes  

Women-only carriages would be an insult to both sexes

Katie Grant
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style