Britain, we are often told, is a bastion of tolerance in a world which is still all too familiar with oppression and persecution. This article is not about to draw comparisons between modern Britain and those nations whose citizens are stoned to death for adultery, or where their places of worship are demolished due to state paranoia. To do so would clearly be a crass and unconstructive overreaction. But perhaps Britain is not as tolerant as it makes out. Britain certainly has come a long way since the Second World War in terms of its liberal social outlook, and in many ways the country truly does deserve its reputation for tolerance. One has a lot less to fear about being openly gay. To a large extent (although it would be naïve to think it still does not happen) it is your qualifications, and not the colour of your skin, that have a larger bearing on whether or not you land the job of your dreams. Not to mention the huge advancements in gender equality. These are all laudable achievements and should make any liberal proud. It is also fair to say that in all of these areas there is still some work that needs to be done.
But the pendulum has swung too far the other way. The paradigm shift in public tolerance to these sorts of issues that has occurred since the Second World War was long ago hijacked by the ‘progressive’ liberal left who have systematically used these laudable aims to stifle debate, and in doing so, the true definition of tolerance itself. The onset of the PC culture, manifested and reinforced by the BBC, mean that the Gillian Duffy incident was merely the most public.
We now know that current and former members of the Parliamentary Labour Party once worked for an organisation that affiliated itself with the Paedophile Information Exchange. Whilst these individuals have all subsequently apologised, to varying degrees, it is these same people and others of similar mind, that went on to ensure that for many years the fear of being branded racist meant that the police in Rochdale were loath to investigate cases of child grooming due to the ethnicity of its perpetrators. Is it really any wonder the far right find issues like this fertile ground for recruitment? By combining a general distain for what they see as anachronistic concerns and values with a form of moral relativism, the ‘progressive’ left ensured that any debate that may have helped prevent these dreadful crimes was never had. Whether it is Rochdale, being arrested for quoting Churchill, or simply wearing a cross, it has become increasingly clear that what is considered tolerable has become increasing subjective and is no longer being evenly applied. This has come to the point where by giving tacit dispensation to certain sections of society to pursue their own agenda by a different set of rules or social norms, the ‘progressive’ left has undermined any real notion of liberalism and equality.
There should be no need for the notion of PC anyway. Common courtesy and decency should be enough to ensure that people refrain from offending others; and if they don’t? Well, there is no ‘right’ to not be offended. That is itself the nature of tolerance; “the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with.” If you do not like what you hear, tolerance leaves you with two options; either ignore or engage in meaningful debate. And if the opinions expressed are particularly abhorrent, have faith that reason will prevail.