Political Correctness is the death knell of Free Speech

Andrew Thorpe-Apps stands up for gaffes and golliwogs.

Peter Hitchens notes in The Abolition of Britain that political correctness is the ‘most intolerant system of thought to dominate the British Isles since the Reformation’. One may speak and act only within the confines of a strict set of societal ‘norms’. The imposed orthodoxy of being ‘politically correct’ is an agonising step towards totalitarianism.

Political correctness was around before 1997, but it took on a new level during the Blair years. Those who questioned New Labour’s immigration policies were frequently labelled as racist or bigoted. The Government pushed for legislation to criminalise ‘politically incorrect’ jokes. Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 is a particularly worrying piece of legislation. It states that a person is guilty of an offence if he uses any insulting words or behaviour, which are likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

The ‘PC’ phenomenon is not unique to Britain. Indeed, it has become vehement in all ‘western’ nations over the past two decades. Yet the UK certainly has its fair share of bizarre cases. There was the woman taken to an employment tribunal for not offering a hairdressing job to a Muslim wearing a headscarf. There was the man who lost his job because he suggested that his customers should learn English. Finally, there was the 65-year-old grandmother charged with racially aggravated harassment for putting a golliwog in the window of her home.

golliwogs

The golliwog has become a potent symbol of the struggle against political correctness. PC-enthusiast and divisive ‘community leader’ Lee Jasper (who maintains that black people ‘cannot be racist’) led a demonstration against a shop in Sutton selling the dolls in October 2011. According to Jasper, golliwogs are ‘dangerous’, promote racism and are an ‘anti-Black political symbol’.

It would be interesting to hear from Mr Jasper how exactly a toy can ‘promote’ any form of discrimination or political repression. Yet that is for another discussion. The point is that Lee Jasper and others have apparently decided that golliwogs are offensive, and have unilaterally declared that shops can no longer sell them. They seek to impose a particular societal orthodoxy, and any who oppose this – for example, by continuing to sell golliwogs or arguing that they are not racist symbols – are in danger of falling foul of a police force that often feel compelled to ‘fall in line’.

Blatant racism, discrimination and abusive behaviour must not be tolerated. It is certainly right that Britain should have strong laws to deal with people who are actively causing harm to others. But this must not come at the expense of free speech and expression. People must not be afraid to express their opinion, even where that opinion does not fit with the ‘majority view’.

Motor racing legend Sir Stirling Moss recently made a public ‘gaffe’ by saying he did not want to be played by a ‘poofter’ in a film. He quickly apologised for any offence caused and stated that he believed the actor would have to be ‘masculine’ since Sir Stirling was apparently quite the ‘ladies man’ in his youth. Some groups had demanded an apology from Moss, with one gay-rights activist saying he ‘shouldn’t have used the word poofter’.

The Moss incident is worthy of comment for a number of reasons. Firstly, Moss is saved by his age and fame. As an 83-year-old, he lived at a time when homosexuality was illegal. His views are inevitably shaped by his experience, and so he cannot reasonably be judged by modern standards. Also, his notoriety means that the police would never bring charges for fear of an inevitable public outcry. However, many others would not enjoy such protection, and as the previous examples show, individuals have come unstuck on far more trivial matters.

StirlingMoss

Secondly, it simply does not make sense to demand an apology. A forced apology is of no more value than a forced confession. Moss volunteered an apology for any offence caused – although he would have been equally right not to have apologised at all since he merely voiced an opinion. The reality is that Moss apologised not because he thought he had done wrong, but because he did not want his name to be tarnished.

Thirdly, the activist’s comment that Moss should not have used the word ‘poofter’ creates an intriguing parallel with Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four. In the novel, the Party relentlessly chips away at the English language in an attempt to restrict people’s ability to express discontent.

There is clearly a balance to be struck between free speech and protection from abuse and discrimination. Yet the scales are currently lopsided, with frivolous accusations being brought against people for expressing an opinion or performing activities which have no actual detriment to the complainant.

We must confront political correctness wherever we find it and never be afraid to speak freely.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Hahah, you read politics? Apparently not super closely.

    First up your assessment of what causes detriment needs to be updated – check out prejudiced norm theory. As for the apology thing, haaas it genuinely not occurred to you that they serve a political purpose?

    I think the point about Newspeak is absurd enough on its own, but for anyone swayed: Newspeak WORKED. Which means this is only an objection if you think “all words that express criticism or negativity” and “all words that express prejudice” are equally worth protecting.

  2. I broadly agree with the author, however, the postwar Conservatives have been just as guilty of betraying indigenous Brits.

    As the population increases, so the need for total control over what individuals say and do will become more urgent. Is seems that you cannot squeeze communities with even mildly opposing ideologies together without a strict regime in place to prevent civil unrest. Look at, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Sunni and Shea communities etc.

    As far as Islam in the UK is concerned, there is no turning the clock back and it will not go away, in fact, its expansion will soon accelerate. The Muslim community is beginning to realise that, instead of alienating the native population of their prospective recruitment areas, they should, where it does not contradict Islamic law, reach out and adopt western culture. For example, this could mean western styled architecture and dress. Combine this with undergoing charitable endeavours to help the poor and disadvantaged, Islamic churches and yes, call them churches, and the buying up of redundant Christian places of worship.

    It is not my wish that the post-war England, that I grew-up in, should fall under the control of jet one more wave of domination by an Abrahamic religion, but look at the alternatives! Look at where we are heading! As the majority of people in the UK have lost control of their cultural direction and are too chicken or stupid to rise in rebellion, there seems to be a straight choice between Political Correctness – which promotes the power of the state under the disguise of protecting the interests of minorities, and Islam – which would sweep all the anti marriage, anti family, anti heterosexual, anti male discrimination away overnight.

    Not an easy choice and, of course, the straight jacket and gag of Political Correctness has been beneficial to bankers, economic migrants, feminists, large corporations, single parents, homosexuals, foreign travellers and beggars, illegal immigrants, all levels of government, criminals, the unemployed, terrorists, city traders and the EU and so on. So some condemnation of any criticism of Political Correctness must be expected but the majority of people in the UK do not, as yet, fall into these categories. Could Islam be the only way to salvage anything from the ruins of British culture?

  3. I have to say Andrew, I think you and Peter Hitchens are mistakenly conflating two issues here: government restrictions on speech, and mere social conventions. The former is much more problematic than the latter.

    Laws like Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 are genuinely concerning, because they allow a person to be criminally convicted for saying something which offends someone. But political correctness as a social phenomenon doesn’t do that. It can sometimes be silly, but it isn’t a code of laws – no one is *forced* to be politically correct. It’s an important distinction to make: a person who merely says something offensive might get faced with bad headlines and angry reactions on Twitter, but a person who says something illegal could in theory be thrown in jail.

    People complaining about things like golliwogs and the word ‘poofter’ may or may not be justified, but they’re not oppressing free speech, they’re exercising it. Sir Stirling Moss is free to say what he likes, and others are free to criticise him for it: that’s how it should be. It’s only when someone faces criminal charges or a legal suit for speaking their mind that we should be worried.

    • It’s a fair point that I should’ve made that distinction clear. I agree that legislation is the more pressing threat to free speech. Nonetheless, I would argue that the so-called ‘mob mentality’ of activities like marching on shops selling golliwogs is also a serious concern. Indeed, it is this ‘tyranny of the majority’ view – coupled with sycophant politicians who crave public support – that often leads to awful laws like Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 in the first place.

  4. Political correctness is politeness is action.

    What frequently happens is that men (especially of course straight white cisgendered men who’ve never had to think about it) get cross when they’re told that no, politeness is not optional and they don’t get to decide what constitutes being homophobic, or racist, or transphobic, or sexist.

    And this article is just another pointless example of that.

  5. what a stunningly ignorant article. just a few thoughts, really, rather than an argument:

    you argue that being expected to speak and act within a set of defined norms as a “step towards totalitarianism.” would it then surprise you to know that tight constraints on behaviour and speech have existed long before political correctness was a thing? or that many other free spirits, such as yourself i suppose, count themselves amongst the anti-pc brigade. if behaviours and speech were as tightly defined as you allege, there’d be lots of people in a lot of trouble.

    you then, in your second paragraph, decide to conflate causing offense and being politically incorrect instead of actually offering a definition of political correctness which undermines the entire basis of your article, really.

    but really – can you say hand-on-heart that golliwogs do not trivialise black-face and racism? how else would calling a black person a golliwog still be a slur if that were not the case?

    i’ll just end on stirling moss – why do you think his age gives him a free pass to slur homosexuals? would it surprise you to know that all the senior members of my family somehow manage to not be homophobes having been alive prior to 1972? oh, and by all means, call people who don’t want to be called poofters orwellians. that will win your argument, if the rest of your article doesn’t.

    • You seem rather sans souci when it comes to free speech.

      I don’t think ‘political correctness’ was created by New Labour (in the article I do say that it existed before 1997), yet it is difficult to deny that the restraints on free speech were ramped up during the Blair years. The legislation enacted between 1997 and 2010, coupled with the media culture (particularly the left-leaning media) bears this out. Political correctness is, of course, difficult to define – there is actually no single definitive definition – but it is commonly agreed to be the restriction of views that ‘may’ be deemed offensive to certain groups. The repression of free speech is undoubtedly a first step towards totalitarianism. I do believe we should urge caution against giving away freedoms piecemeal.

      I don’t believe people do use the term ‘golliwog’ as a racial slur. They might well use the term ‘wog’ (a term that actually pre-dates Enid Blyton’s characters), but not golliwog. I also doubt that the majority of such people even know what golliwogs are – and I would be very surprised if they actually know who Enid Blyton is. It seems bizarre and unfair to charge the likes of Blyton, Kipling or Hergé with retrospective racism. Golliwogs were a popular toy for decades in Britain and I fail to see how they suddenly became ‘evil tools’ of political and social repression overnight. As I said, it sums up the ludicrous nature of PC-culture rather well.

      Regarding Sir Stirling Moss – I have not said that his age or fame give him a ‘free pass’. The point is that they have afforded him a level of protection (the public would not accept Moss being judicially reprimanded) that others have not had, and that is why we see the long line of cases that are clearly an affront to common sense.

      I am tired of losing words from our language, even if you are not. ‘Gay’ was once commonly used to refer to being in good spirits. But if PC-enthusiasts had their way, it would be scraped out of the dictionary altogether.

      • “I don’t believe people do use the term ‘golliwog’ as a racial slur.”

        And as a white man, obviously you’re an expert on racism.

        • I lived in South Africa so actually I do know something of racism against whites. Are you claiming that racism is solely the preserve of whites by the way? I don’t know, to me that sounds a bit…racist.

          • Goodness. So, the poor little white guy is whining because he’s being so terribly discriminated against for being white. Well, thank you for briefly clarifying that this entire article was a White Whine.

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