18-year-old Sam would be horrified to hear 33-year-old Sam admit it*, but Ann Widdecombe is actually right more often than she is wrong – and never more right than when she recently gave an interview to BBC Parliament and veered onto the topic of political correctness.
(* As a 19-year-old lefty student at Cambridge, full of self-righteous assurance and moral superiority, I once accosted Ann Widdecombe in the bar of the Cambridge Union after the annual “This House Has No Confidence In Her Majesty’s Government” debate and no doubt made a complete idiot of myself in the process, though for some time afterwards it pleased me to brag about having supposedly confounded Widdecombe with my impeccable logic and well-rehearsed diatribe against the Evil Tor-ees.)
The BBC reports:
Political correctness is “silencing a great body of thought”, the 69-year old says, to the point where she wonders if we can still claim to live in a free society.
She worries that almost everyone is under pressure to keep their views to themselves, not just those with strongly-held political or ethical convictions
“You actually get bright, intelligent people that could hold their own anyway, saying to you: ‘Well, of course you can’t say that these days’. And I think: ‘Yes you can’.
“This is not the Soviet Union. You should not be constrained by state orthodoxy.
“You should be able to say what you individually think and if it is unpopular, you should stand your ground.”
In such a climate, she says it is doubly important that politicians speak out.
“The only people who don’t have to (keep quiet) are the parliamentarians. We can say what we like. We can be against gay marriage, we can be against abortion, we can want to limit immigration – we can say what we like.
“The ordinary citizen is much less blessed these days. I’ve always said if you hold a view what is the point of holding it if you don’t stick by it.”
Widdecombe is absolutely right to emphasise the special responsibility which falls upon those with unpopular or minority views to actually air their beliefs so that unpopular ideas can be tested and either be found wanting and discarded or be acclaimed and more widely adopted based on their merits.
I have just come back from a friend’s Christmas party in a very fashionable part of London, a lovely evening, but one in which I was (for the second time this month) presented with the situation in which a fellow party-goer and friend-of-a-friend casually disparaged Brexit and Brexiteers to my face, automatically assuming that I would agree with their stance.
As happened last time, a virtual decision tree flickered to life in my mind. Do I do what the political blogger and ardent Brexiteer in me wants most, and dramatically out myself as a Leave voter before going on to deliver some barbed and witty put-downs of smug London-dwelling Remainers? If I do so, will it escalate into an argument which might be embarrassing for the hosts? Will it embarrass my wife? Is there a genuine opportunity to change minds, or is this just an opportunity to invite social ostracisation with no realistic potential upside?
On different days and in different scenarios and moods, I opt to go down different branches of the decision tree. On this occasion, knowing my audience, I deemed that there was no realistic opportunity to change minds or even plant the seeds of doubt, and so I changed the subject and ended up having a very pleasant conversation with the chap about other matters.
It is important to note that this friend-of-a-friend is a good guy in every respect – he is just lost to reason on one particular, highly important topic. And while I may not have been afforded the same courtesy had the situation been reversed, I think it is important for Brexiteers to hold themselves to higher standards of behaviour than some Remainers seem to be displaying in their sneering contempt of those who dared to vote their principles rather than their wallets.
On other occasions, I have taken the opposite approach and confronted idiotic EU-worship and criticism of Brexit with the immediate revelation that I am a eurosceptic Brexiteer and that anybody intending to insult Brexiteers in my presence had better be packing something more powerful than smug, idiotic, failed talking points from Stronger In. The last time I took this approach, a couple of weeks ago, the person concerned physically moved her seat a couple of inches further away from me, and frosty silence reigned throughout dinner.
Aside from casual interactions with friends (who no doubt feel duty-bound not to dismiss me out of hand because of our shared history) I have had zero success talking to Remainers in social settings with any degree of success, regardless of the approach I choose. But I am increasingly coming to the opinion that on this subject, as Ann Widdecombe says, “you should be able to say what you individually think and if it is unpopular, you should stand your ground”.
Of course there will always be times when getting into a heated political debate at somebody’s wedding reception is not the right course of action. But having now witnessed how a fairly representative sample of professional young Londoners feel about Brexit and Brexiteers, I think that these people urgently need to hear dissenting voices – if not to change their minds (for such a feat seems impossible) then at least to make the point that there are intelligent young professional Londoners out there who do support Brexit and whose political philosophy consists of something more than vacuous, superficial internationalism and a readiness to believe pro-EU propaganda and apologetics.
And whether the subject is Brexit or any of the issues falling under the suffocating blanket of social justice and identity politics, now is not the time for Brexiteers, conservatives, free speech supporters or other modern day heretics to stay hidden in the closet. Not with so much at stake.
Some of the most illiberal movements in society right now – the establishment’s rearguard fight against Brexit, the trampling of free speech under the jackboots of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics – are fuelled by ignorance of and antipathy toward those who dissent from the leftist orthodoxy. Those dissenters such as myself, living deep behind enemy lines in places like central London, almost have a duty to show that Brexiteers, anti-SJWs and other latter-day thought criminals are more than the two-dimensional caricatures painted by screeching left-wing propaganda outlets like the Guardian and Independent.
95 percent of the time, this may be a lost cause. But once in awhile it may lead to a conversation, and even to a changed mind. Was swallowing my tongue and changing the subject in the face of lazy Brexit criticism the right decision this evening, given that the payoff for me was an hour of pleasant small talk and the knowledge that I helped perpetuate ignorance on such an important subject? Probably not.
Next time I am confronted with the Brexit/Social Justice-in-a-social-situation decision tree, I shall hold my ground unapologetically. Henceforth, the price of airily expressing half-baked political opinions in my presence, in the arrogant expectation that everyone present will concur, will be a thundering response from me which might make even Ann Widdecombe proud. Not only when I am feeling particularly up for a debate, but every single time, even when I would rather have a quiet, conflict-free evening.
That much is the least that I can do – that we all should be doing – for the causes in which we believe.
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Well, it’s certainly interesting and thought-provoking to frame ‘political correctness’ as ‘agreeing with a certain take on politics’. I have my own reasons for profoundly disagreeing with the Leave campaign and the way in which Brexit is being conducted, but would never disrespect anyone for simply having different political opinions from me. I suppose what you’re hinting at here is the observation that “not all leave voters are xenophobic, but all xenophobes voted leave” and I know you’ve encountered that opinion from some of my online friends, for which I am kind of sorry, but only to the extent that you might be sorry for accusing me of “vacuous, superficial internationalism and a readiness to believe pro-EU propaganda and apologetics.”
We seem to be losing the art of disagreeing constructively, which is sad, because creative conflict is in many ways at the heart of what is good about democracy.
Regarding xenophobia, perhaps the pro-leave camp could do more to disavow the wave of xenophobic attacks in the UK since the result of the referendum – kind of in the same way that Muslims are often asked to disavow extremism. At the very least, put forward some kind of positive vision of the UK (read: England) that isn’t based on our supposedly inherent superiority to other nations.
(Just as an aside, Great Britain means the landmass of the larger of the British Isles; the United Kingdom also includes Northern Ireland (our forthcoming land border with the EU). Ignoring Northern Ireland just to capitalize on the weak pun in ‘Great’ really gets on my nerves…)
Most people I encounter who complain about ‘political correctness’ are bemoaning the fact that they are not allowed to express their opinions about (usually) women and (sometimes) other ethnicities or cultures; said opinions are usually ill-informed and pretty disrespectful. I am not such a delicate flower that I cannot bear to hear these opinions, but they really don’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny when challenged; like the myth of ‘Great’ Britain, they are usually founded on an unquestioned assumption of superiority on the part of the speaker, and while I respect the right of these people to form their own opinions, I expect them to respect my right to believe that their opinions are stupid. Moreover, in the workplace, I feel it is right to challenge these opinions and in extreme cases ask the person in question to keep quiet about them – for example, when certain old men here tell everyone that ‘the problem is this place is run by women with useless degrees’ and yet fail to explain, when questioned, why someone’s gender is a problem, and what constitutes a ‘useless degree’. Am I suffocating him under the blanket of social justice and identity politics, or am I just helping to foster a respectful and efficient working environment?
To all your commentators who admitted they have hidden their political beliefs until now, it is a shame that you lacked the courage of your convictions, but you are hardly being silenced. Speak up for yourself; just be prepared for us special snowflake suffocatingly politically correct wishy-washy liberal types to disagree with you, and for at least some of us to have thought about our reasons.
As a ‘leftie’ whose political views are well-known to my left-leaning, liberal friends, the decision to vote to leave is/was completely incomprehensible to them. I have defended myself by quoting Tony Benn’s views about how undemocratic the EU is and was when it was proposed we should join it back in 1972. Had he lived, I continue to argue, he would undoubtedly have been a very strong Brexiteer who may have influenced the debate to those who thought it would be best to remain, to the point where it may well not have been only 52%, but far higher. Food for thought, what?
However, in the spirit of goodwill to all at this time of year, I’ve sent my Remainer friends a particular tea-towel with the famous John Donne quote; “No man is an island”, etc in the hope that we will be able to REMAIN friends. But yes Samuel, we must stand our ground and refuse to be treated like lepers and not be apologists for our views. We must all continue to have our voices heard, in whatever forum we can, so that we do not allow the slow drift of the Remainers in government or in opposition to water down the peoples’ decision. What really makes my blood boil is when Remainers keep asking: “What exactly does Brexit mean”? It means what it says on the tin; we want to EXIT all of it! We are Great Britain not some little Switzerland or Norway. Do these countries produce a Lewis Hamilton, or an Andy Murray or an Olympian womens’ hockey team? Or the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd or a David Bowie? I remember travelling in Europe in the mid-sixties when Italian shops had hardly any lighting to speak of and public French toilets were so disgusting that one had to hold a perfumed hankie to one’s nose before entering. I could go on but won’t because it should be obvious that we are a unique island nation – just ask Stephen Hawkings!
Sam what you write here hits a chord. I am also a young, conservative minded person working in central London. My workplace is full of modern liberals; they talk politics as if their liberal viewpoint is unquestionably right, even if they show little knowledge or understanding of the issues at hand. I did not admit to voting to leave in the referendum, as I thought this would cause problems at work that were better to avoid, clearly a cowardly decision. I am sure there must be some more people at work who also kept their head down.
With friends I am also careful, although reading sites like Richard North’s has given me a confidence to challenge their views and hopefully put some doubts in their mind. The liberal orthodoxy is so self-righteous that most people who hold these views have not thought about the issues in depth, and so are easily taken on in debate. I agree we have a duty to speak up as often as possible, and this will give others confidence to do the same. Amongst my friends I have sensed that many go along with the orthodoxy because it is easier, but if asked difficult questions they are willing to change.
An excellent and well written piece!
As the old saying goes: stay away from topics concerning politics, religion and sex and your social interactions will always be pleasant ones.
But you are right. Whilst we have a distaste for upsetting the apple-cart in social gatherings, downplaying our points of view, however controversial, does us no good in the long run and we always feel a bit guilty afterwards for being such cowards.
I too have ducked and dived a bit in similar situations, similar to what you did, and now you have brought me to task.
Consider this as one of my New Year’s resolutions – “hold my ground unapologetically”.
“That much is the least that I can do – that we all should be doing – for the causes in which we believe.”
Reblogged this on michaelsnaith.