Political correctness, Iraq and others

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Political correctness was always more use to right than left

Political correctness was always more use to right than left

Sir: I noticed with irritation and dismay your thoughtless use of the phrase "political correctness" to refer to an entirely laudable effort to get judges in England and Wales to employ socially sensitive language in court ("Judges given new advice on political correctness", 13 May).

This is a ludicrous concept which has never gained any genuine currency on the left (with the possible exception of a handful of American university departments in the late 1970s), and which smacks of a Stalinist/ Thought Police type approach to social relations. Its utility value for the right has long outstripped any genuine meaning it has had for the left.

I say this having last year completed a doctoral thesis on American nationalism. One of my key findings was that "political correctness" is a crucial enabling tool (or "symbolic object") utilised by the right, serving to vouchsafe discourses of religious, ethnic and racial chauvinism by lauding them as rebellion against an apparent oppressive cultural norm. Racists (and religious chauvinists in the American context) take great pride in declaring themselves "politically incorrect".

In my thesis I suggested that progressives and those on the left would be well advised to replace the concept with a concern instead to be "socially sensitive". Those on the right no doubt will continue to rail against the "PC", but I see no reason why those of us who care about equality should not consign such a notion to the linguistic dustbin.


Anti-war sniping will only help the Tories

Sir: I'm shedding no tears at the dismissal of Piers Morgan. The publication of the photographs has done possibly irreparable damage to the British cause in Iraq.

I will shed some tears if, after having spent most of my life under right-wing - sometimes very right-wing - governments, I find that the frothy Westminster village media circus and their anti-war allies outside deliver a knockout blow to the best prime minister this country has had.

He and a few allies in government seem to be the only ones who understand that our small isle punches far above its weight through its military and intelligence links with the United States.

In the next election watch the Lib Dem votes rocket upwards where they are the main challengers to Labour as they stress the Iraq bit; watch the Tories, stressing the Union Jack bit, do well where they are the main challengers, as the anti-war members of the coalition that put Labour in power abstain. In other words, let's focus on what has gone wrong instead of what has gone right: a triumph for cynicism and scepticism.

Michael Howard, fear not, write your victory speech. Charles Kennedy is coming to your rescue. He gets more goodies in the shape of Labour seats to keep his conference in good heart. But Mr Howard gets the top prize. Gordon Brown, prepare to deliver some weighty words about neo-classical endogenous growth theory from your seat as Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. That will be something to shed many tears about.

Billingshurst, West Sussex

Sir: Piers Morgan was sacked because he besmirched the name of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment (members of which are under investigation after the death of a detainee) and endangered the lives of British servicemen when he was fooled into publishing pictures which were probably fakes.

Andrew Gilligan lost his job because he reported that "sexed up" information was used to lead this country to attack and invade another. The head of the BBC had to go because he supported him. The information was not just "sexed up": it was false.

Tony Blair persisted in false claims and used them as a basis for a war that not only endangered the lives of British servicemen but actually led to quite a few of their deaths as well as the deaths of unnumbered Iraqis. He is still in office. One of the officials responsible for providing him with this information has been promoted.

If a journalist were to report today that a young boy said the emperor was wearing no clothes he would probably lose his job.

Fareham, Hampshire

Sir Andrew Grice, in his "Week in Politics" weekly column (15 May), claims that "Mr Blair has always been tolerated, but never loved, by his own party".

I find this comment mystifying. Tony Blair is widely admired and very popular with many members of the Labour Party. It's true that the "antis" shout louder, but the standing ovations at conference are not staged or prompted by party officials. As a Labour activist I meet very few members who want Tony Blair to resign - probably a better measure of his popularity than the gripes of failed ex-ministers seeking revenge.


Sir: Suppose that the intelligence services now reported to the Prime Minister a credible threat to the United Kingdom necessitating a prompt military response. In such circumstances, Mr Blair would not be able to command a majority in the House or public opinion, since he has no credibility. He would have to make way for another leader, as Chamberlain made way for Churchill.

This is the price Mr Blair must pay for appeasing President Bush. His colleagues should help him formulate an exit strategy and, if that fails, tell him to go. Someone must, in Leo Amery's phrase, "speak for England". It is not an option to go on propping up a leader disabled from leading on any matter of fundamental importance.


Sir: As an unrepentant hawk with regard to the war, I nevertheless vigorously endorse your demands to know the numbers of civilian casualties in Iraq ("Why aren't we counting Iraq's dead?", 17 May). I couldn't give a flying fishcake about the oil, WMDs, or whether the war was "legal". I remain morally certain that given Saddam's track record significantly fewer innocent Iraqis have died in the last year than would have done if he'd remained in power. But if I'm wrong, I want to know it.

Alford, Surrey

Sir: Not "standing shoulder to shoulder", more like "standing at heel". I am sure a majority of Britons and Europeans look at it this way.

London NW6

Railway safety

Sir: The article by Barrie Clement "Rail safety shake-up puts lives at risk" (5 May) cannot be allowed to pass by without comment.

Bill Callaghan, the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, apparently said that moving the safety regulation role from the HSE is likely to put lives at risk. I would like to see the risk assessment supporting this statement.

If, as Mr Callaghan asserts, there is "no conflict between high standards of safety and profitability", then surely he has no need to be so concerned about a combined safety and economic regulator, provided it is independent of the industry, and that safety never becomes a poor relation to economic regulation.

I am sure though that ministers and rail industry leaders understand the importance of safety to the reputation of the industry and I am certain that the review by Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, will arrive at carefully considered conclusions for the future of railway safety regulation.

The review will be well informed by looking at the way safety regulation works in aviation (which is combined with economic regulation within the Civil Aviation Authority).

Aviation has an excellent safety record and this comes from a spirit of respect and mutual trust between the regulated and the regulator. The article demonstrates that this is not the case at the moment on our railways and adds to the impetus for change.

Scopwick, Lincolnshire
The writer was Director of Rail Safety, HSE, 2002-2003.

Compact future

Sir: The increase The Independent's compact readership, mostly from The Guardian, is far greater among women than men. It can't be Iraq-related, since both papers are anti-war. From my experience passengers who put shoes up on seats or spread thighs into adjoining seats are mostly men. Perhaps women are less disposed to thrust their paper into other people's space. But don't let the new readership change your editorial!

London SE16

Sir: I lament the passing of the Independent broadsheet as I find reading the compact edition a far more physically demanding task. Having to turn the pages twice as frequently disrupts my usually sedate morning coffee!

Braintree, Essex

Abuse of terror law

Sir: In responding to your editorial of 30 April, Hazel Blears, a Minister of the Crown, seems to be praising the erosion of another of the safeguards of our liberty (letter, 13 May).

She praises the operation of seizing people under the anti-terror laws despite them not being charged with terrorist offences because she says some of them were arrested and bailed for other alleged offences.

Terrorist law, being much more restrictive of rights than ordinary law, should be strictly circumscribed to terrorist offences. She should have been ashamed that the police may have used that law to go fishing for other offences.

What has gone wrong with this government that it has become so careless of our traditions?

Bushey, Hertfordshire

Killed by smoking

Sir: The research released by the Imperial College London that shows at least one hospitality worker a week will die from passive smoking is a shocking statistic (report, 17 May). Yet again here is more evidence that the Government should ban smoking in enclosed public places such as bars and restaurants.

Our primary concern is to care for people with cancer, regardless of the cause. At the same time, we know that around a third of the 150,000 cancer deaths in Britain each year are caused by smoking.

Put simply, many of the deaths from cancer can be prevented - by not smoking. This is easier said than done and so we recognise that people who would like to give up smoking need all the help available. At the very least, reducing passive smoking will go some way to lowering cancer deaths.

Chief Executive
Macmillan Cancer Relief
London SE1

Blair's nanny state

Sir: Never mind Iraq, tuition fees, council tax, and all that. The latest idea is probably the one which will consign New Labour to a couple of decades in the political wilderness. Well, one can but hope.

Subsidised au pairs and nannies ("Families get £200 weekly tax break to pay for nanny", 17 May). What in heaven's name is that all about? People on low incomes, including pensioners, will see their tax go to people who can't or won't bring up their own children, largely because they have chosen not to.

It might go down well with the chattering classes. But can there be any further indication that New Labour has gone totally over to Tarquin and Arabella, and completely abandoned Fred and Florrie?

This won't buy votes. It will embarrass many recipients. It should also make the less well off even more livid than all the other ludicrous decisions of recent weeks and months.

Weybridge, Surrey

Speeding into danger

Sir: Page 10, today (17 May): headline, "Speeding penalties to be reviewed". Page 2, same issue: "Six killed in pile-up as weekenders head home". I rest my case.


Celebrity names

Sir: When I was born 55 years ago in Malta my father went to register my birth and give me the name Anna Therese. The registrar insisted that my second name would be recorded as Teresa as Therese was the Latin spelling! In view of yet another celebrity giving a child an odd name - in the latest case, "Apple" - is it not time that registrars the world over were given the power of veto. You can nickname your child whatever you wish without saddling it with one of these horrendous fashionable monikers.

Long Buckby, Northamptonshire

Citizens, not customers

Sir: Like Malcolm Grieve (letter, 15 May), I welcome the Midland Mainline train company's reverting to the courteous way of referring to travellers as "passengers" rather than "customers". Perhaps Bristol library will stop referring to library users by that same term. Council employees should remember that we are citizens with rights and privileges, and obligations and duties. One of those is to pay the wages of librarians.


Take no notice

Sir: A sign appeared just before a blind bend near our house: "Road Closed". In a spirit of doubt and curiosity, I ignored the sign and so suffered the embarrassment of a three-point turn in front of workmen repairing a culvert. Worse: on the back of the "Road Closed" sign, they had painted: "Told You So."

Farnborough, Hampshire

Sir: It is only recently that gentlemen's toilets have offered baby changing facilities. I was very happy with my babies and didn't want to change them, but I resent not being offered the opportunity.