Leading Article: PC or not PC?

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PERHAPS IT was a bit politically correct of the SS Great Britain Project to remove the cigar from the mouth of Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the photograph they use of him in their promotional material. But the reaction of the smoking rights people to this minor, if tiresome, example of historical revisionism can scarcely be described as politically measured. Marjorie Nicholson, director of the pressure group Forest, said on the Today programme on Friday that the decision to remove the cigar "brings to mind the behaviour of Stalin when he started deleting Trotsky from photographs". To equate the paranoid spite of the century's most accomplished mass-murderer with an over-fastidious concern for the physical well-being of others is political hysteria. There is a lot of it around, thanks to the anti-PC police. You see it in the blazered bores who whine into their beer about the loss of the word "gay" - a word they never used in the first place.

Maybe, just occasionally, we should risk social ostracism and dare to be politically correct: to fasten our seat belts (even on aeroplanes), to wag our heads and point to the No Smoking sign when a thug lights up on the Underground, and to refrain from offensive remarks based, as the jargon has it, on gender, race and sexual orientation. On the other hand it is obviously possible to take political correctness too far. Sometimes you have to give offence. Any more talk of Stalin from Ms Nicholson and she will have to be reminded of Kipling's charming line: "And a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a Smoke."

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