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

Share

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

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz