I am not alone in thinking that, with the issue of ‘political correctness’, the pendulum has swung much too far from free speech and towards repression. The potential is now seriously there to see it operating as an insidious erosion of our civil liberties, through legal precedents created by court decisions and loaded new legislation.
Not the least part of this is likely to be the stifling of the great British sense of humour that has been a part of our cultural heritage for centuries and is the envy of the civilised world. Satire, both in the street and in the media, has always been a line of defence against absurdity and coercive overreaching in government. That is why tyrants can’t stand to be made into figures of fun.
Racial discrimination is not the issue here, though its application is. A case in point has arisen within the last few days, with the ITV news reader, Liza Aziz, bringing a lawsuit for £5 million against her employers, alleging race, sex and age discrimination. To support her case for asserting the existence of institutional racism, she has cited how an erstwhile colleague ‘regularly mimicked’ the voice of the respected newscaster, Sir Trevor McDonald. I have had lunch with Sir Trevor and found him a sensible, congenial fellow. I cannot think he would regard such an impersonation as anything but flattery. It points up the silliness that ensues when political correctness goes mad, especially when several million pounds hinges on it.
The rights of women have fallen into the same category. The enforcement of such rights, as these have come to be formulated today, tend to place a question mark over the very principle of the rule of law as a force to protect society from irrational tendencies among legislators. When it comes to emphasising equality between the sexes, a patronising tone that seems quite unnecessary often comes into the debate. Ignorance is no longer a scourge that afflicts us. We live in an age of enlightenment, where modern technology plays a vital role in our continuing evolution. The youth of today is more in tune with their surroundings on every level, and far more informed, than their elders ever were. The problems we face today have mostly to do with corruption in high places and the manipulation of the masses by those in power.
We may add to this the sly orchestration to encourage women as a dominant power, to rally them for political advantage, with the original aspirations of the Women’s Liberation movement having been denigrated and marginalised. Women really do not need the kind of twaddle that emanates from Harriet Harman in the House of Commons. I can only assume that she has an eye on expanding her power base within New Labour, whether in government or opposition.
Women are not to be herded like a flock of sheep to satisfy the ambitions of our political masters. During the last twenty years I have interviewed more than five hundred successful women from all walks of life. To my great amazement I have found them as individualistic as men, perhaps even more so. Each has her own philosophy and vision that can never be classed as ‘typical of women’. Whatever the issue being considered, it is impossible to define something that could be called ‘a woman’s perspective’. They guard their individual viewpoints with a fierce passion and courage that is uniquely refreshing and are rarely to be diverted from their principled beliefs in ultimate objectives.
Recently Quartet Books published A World According to Women: An End to Thinking by Jane McLoughlin, a former Women’s Editor on the Guardian, who has written several other books, including seven novels. In this she postulates her belief that women have indeed become the most dominant force in our society, the way being paved by Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. The marginalisation of men has followed on in particular from Blair’s blatant manipulation of government and popular culture, creating a political dialogue where the trivial, emotional and irrational seem to have taken centre stage, bringing about crucial changes that threaten the democratic system itself.
Against this background, we have had the latest political farce: the appointment of Baroness Ashton to be the EU Foreign Minister. Who had ever heard of her before this promotion was made? Certainly Gordon Brown will have done. Is she a Labour crony, or is this a ploy to win the women’s vote by stretching political correctness to the limits? The Europeans will be happy. They have been able to approve this inconsequential appointment to make Britain look silly and diminish our influence where it really matters. Nothing in politics is surprising any more. The standard has dropped so low as to make it the pariah of professions.
‘A World According to Women,’ said Fay Weldon, is ‘the most extraordinarily interesting and stimulating book, written with the passion of conviction…this book will change the way you think.’ The implications are chilling for our next generation of professional administrators and the quality of political debate. Could it be that an ’emotionally literate political class’ will become a greater threat than the bankers?
The road to this state of affairs is clearly delineated by the author:
‘The old traditional “masculine” systems and hierarchies have been almost entirely subsumed in a new “feminine” political agenda which already prevails throughout society and is enshrined in law. Women’s new agenda has imposed new feminine-oriented criteria about what is important in society as a whole, and it is to the popular culture which empowered them that they refer in calling the tune.’
‘The new popular culture,’ she adds, ‘gave ordinary women the means to communicate with each other without putting each other down… In the end the feminists failed as a mass movement because they did not engage with ordinary women… But where the feminists failed, popular culture only too comprehensively triumphed.’
In the United States this very trend is becoming alarmingly manifest today. In the wake of the Sarah Palin phenomenon and the broken-backed finish of the George Bush administration, a section of the Republican Party is seeing the bright hope of revival in a new generation of female politicians prepared to embrace the extreme political and religious right wing and tap into its voting power by promulgating the most outrageous distortions on the emotive issues of the day, from creationism to healthcare reform.
Here in Britain, where political correctness has infiltrated not only politics but also established laws, judges have begun to award ridiculous sums of money in divorce cases, thus indirectly encouraging the dissolution of marriage. These judgements have often seemed flawed. Time and time again we have instances where someone has apparently used a temporary bonding to make themselves eligible for easy rewards, reducing marriage to the status of another branch of the lottery. There we have the legacy of political correctness as all those in authority go overboard to prove an exaggerated sense of fairness, which ultimately has the opposite effect. Even people from abroad are coming to Britain to use our courts to seek for divorce and libel settlements. We seem to have become a paradise for seekers of easy money, out to exploit the loopholes in our legal system and its application.
In the old days, the majority of scandals that occurred in Parliament were of a sexual nature. There was Tom Driberg, newspaper columnist and Labour Member of Parliament, whose homosexual antics were notoriously gossiped about, and Lord Boothby, who not only made Harold Macmillan’s wife his mistress but also had a liaison with one of the Kray twins. Tony Lambton and Lord Jellicoe were all victims of newspaper headlines concerning their indiscretions, and the Profumo case, with its links with call girl Christine Keeler and a Russian military attaché, put John Major’s later canoodlings with Edwina Curry in the shade.
Now, however, it is money, or its misuse, that grabs the headlines, thanks to Mrs Thatcher’s revolution. In her ten years in office, she changed the very fabric of our society by channelling all our energies into the pursuit of money and wealth. Her tentacles spread across the political divide and gained momentum as our politicos became used to the high life and tried to emulate the very rich, as in the case of Tony Blair. So we have New Labour masquerading as the party inheriting the banner of Old Labour, whose primary ideals were directed towards the eradication of poverty and being the guardian of the lame and elderly. But New Labour is also a child of the Thatcherite revolution, and under its rule the focus on money, and the urge to gain it by whatever means, has continued apace. The ‘trickle-down’ effect that Mrs Thatcher assured the country would be the result of the creation of wealth has never happened in practice to any degree that would be noticed by those who live at the lower levels of society.
The getting of wealth has, by contrast, grown almost like a plague that is ravaging our most noble institutions and reducing us to a nation motivated by greed and self-preservation. A case in point comes forward within the arena of popular entertainment (and hence culture) in the phenomenal success of the ‘Belle de Jour’ blogger, a call girl who placed her diary on the internet, where it drew such attention that it became a couple of books and a television series. Belle de Jour’s identity remained undisclosed till this November, when the author, fearing personal treachery, revealed herself to be a research scientist who had worked as a call girl for two years to support herself while writing her doctoral thesis. The disclosure has caused a sensation, not, I am sorry to say, on the grounds of disapproval of the principle of selling one’s body, but as what is almost a promotional campaign to extoll the virtues of money-making whatever the means.
Jane McLoughlin takes apart the Thatcher legacy with stimulating sharp-eyed comment.
She ‘rolled back the frontiers of state intervention in people’s personal lives’, but ‘left behind a floundering social system based on an obsolete framework of distorted male-oriented institutions and practices…’
‘John Major’s premiership as Margaret Thatcher’s successor only underlined how ineffectual the male establishment had become. What Thatcher left behind was dysfunctional government. It was, though, a feminised government…. Feminised government is short-termist government.’
‘Margaret Thatcher may have given women the chance to dominate our political and social life for years to come, but she gave this to ordinary women, the women empowered by popular culture…’
‘In effect, she allowed popular culture to manipulate political power in the land.’