Political correctness

For a real Oxbridge education, go to Durham

‘Should I just have done with it and tell them they’re a bunch of tossers?’ I was on my way to speak at the Durham Union. The motion was ‘This House believes the NHS is out of date’. And, as usual, I was on the ‘wrong’ side of the debate — so why should I even bother? You know beforehand which way the vote is going to go at any university debate these days: the one which enables the snowflakes most easily to signal their virtue. But, on the spur of the moment, I decided to give Durham the benefit of the doubt. ‘I was going to be incredibly rude

Letters | 23 March 2016

PC and abortion Sir: It is heartwarming that Simon Barnes’s son should not suffer the stigma experienced by those with Down’s syndrome in earlier generations (‘In praise of PC’, 19 March). But is it not ironic that in this kinder, more generous and respectful age, over 90 per cent of fetuses diagnosed with Down’s are aborted? Rather than hiding the children away, we now ensure that most of them are not even born. If political correctness had really become sane, surely our kindness, generosity and respect would extend to the womb as well? Matthew Hosier Poole, Dorset Naming conditions Sir: Simon Barnes, makes a couple of assumptions which do not

A Berlin Wall moment for political correctness

Because we’re all so obsessed with what it was that made the Nazis tick, we tend to overlook the bigger mystery of how hundreds of millions of people, for a period considerably longer than the lifespan of Hitler’s Germany, remained under the spell of communism. This is a question that Czeslaw Milosz set out to answer in his 1953 classic The Captive Mind. Milosz was a Polish poet, prominent in the underground during the Nazi occupation, who served as a cultural attaché with Poland’s post-war communist regime before quitting in disgust and fleeing to the US, where he taught at Berkeley and achieved eminence as a Nobel-prize-winning dissident exile. What

Stupidity takes hold of another students’ union

I had never heard the acronym Soas before I started work at the BBC, almost 30 years ago. But as a very young producer at the corporation I was asked to fix up a story about something appalling happening in Africa — I can’t remember exactly what. Famine or cannibalism maybe. Or perhaps one mitigated by the other. The senior producer told me to get someone from Soas to explain it all. What’s Soas, I asked? ‘The School of Oriental and African Studies,’ I was informed. ‘It’s in London. It’s basically a place where we try to work out what on earth the natives are up to now.’ It was

High life | 5 January 2017

Gstaad  New Year’s Eve was a Rhapsody in Blue, with a clarinet glissando that promised joys to come, and the Gershwin downbeat not registering until 6 a.m. The hangover was, of course, Karamazovian, but who the hell cares. I am finally solid again, and even the flu I caught on the trip over is on its last legs, lingering and as annoying as EU regulations, but no longer to be taken seriously. I had lots of close friends for dinner, but the new chalet was packed by the time I began slurring. Mind you, it’s during dreamlike moments such as those between midnight and dawn that wisdom strikes: there is

You can be against the ‘elite’ and still be rich and privileged

Many people have remarked that the image of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage posing by the former’s golden elevator doors epitomises the hypocrisy over populists attacking the ‘elites’. Likewise the Guildhall dinner in which Theresa May told an audience dressed in dinner jackets about globalisation and its discontents. These are the ‘anti-elitists’ who now stand up for the people, they sneer. This is to confuse money with status. As any nouveau riche parvenu has learned, wealth and status are not the same thing, something which has been the subject of some of the most famous novels in the English language. Membership of the ‘elite’, and many will argue about the

Diary – 25 August 2016

To Edinburgh for the book festival, where I am to explain Fools, Frauds and Firebrands to respectable middle-class Scots, who have an endearing way of suggesting to me that I, like them, am a thing of the past. They queue to buy the book, which is nice of them; however, the publisher has failed to deliver any copies, so the need to part with a few quid for politeness’ sake slips painlessly over the horizon. Only the students in the queue awaken me from my complacency. Where do we turn for comfort, they ask, when our reading lists are gibberish about which we can understand only that it is all

Dear Mary | 28 July 2016

Q. Every summer, just when England is at its loveliest, we have to pack everything up and make a stressy journey to go and stay with someone who has a house abroad. I can understand people wanting to repay hospitality, but we really don’t care about cutlet for cutlet. More to the point, we have our own lovely garden and pool. Yet when someone invites you six or seven months ahead, how can you say no without hurting their feelings? — Name and address withheld A. Bare-faced honesty has done the trick for one popular but plain-speaking society figure who replies to such invitations: ‘Obviously we like you very much or

James Delingpole

The alt-right isn’t all wrong

I got told off this week by a presenter on BBC radio for using a four-letter word live on air. In my defence, I was merely quoting a tweet from a black Hollywood comedy star called Leslie Jones which said: ‘Lord have mercy… white people shit.’ And the only reason I did so was that I thought it important that someone, somewhere, spoke out against the double standards which seem to exist on social media right now: one rule for progressives and accepted victim groups; quite another for everyone else. A good example is the ban recently imposed by Twitter on my friend and colleague Milo Yiannopoulos. Milo had got

Baby with the bathwater

Bustle, an online newspaper ‘for and by women’, has published ‘six common phrases you didn’t know were sexist (that you’ll now want to ban from your vocabulary)’. One of them is ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’. By chance this phrase was used by Sir Ernest Gowers, the enemy of officialese and cliché, in his book H.W. Fowler: The Man and his Teaching. ‘We can,’ Sir Ernest wrote, ‘rid ourselves of those grammarians’ fetishes which make it more difficult to be intelligible without throwing the baby away with the bath-water’. That would annoy someone called Julie Sprankles, a writer for Bustle. ‘The most popular theory is that in medieval

Mind games

Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall enjoys the dubious status of a modern classic. A black mental-health patient, Christopher, is about to be freed from a clinic but his cautious young shrink, Bruce, wants to keep him under observation. His senior colleague, Robert, thinks a dose of the big bad world will help to cure the nervy, delusional Christopher, who claims Idi Amin as his father and insists that all oranges are blue. He’s clearly unstable and though he’s highly irascible he hasn’t yet threatened himself, or anyone else, so he deserves his freedom. It’s the kind of knife-edge conundrum faced by clinicians every day. Then, a twist. Robert professes support for

James Delingpole

Counting on sheep

Going Forward (BBC4, Thursdays) is a BBC comedy about the continuing adventures of Kim Wilde, the fat, cynical but lovable nurse character played by former nurse Jo Brand. Now she has quit the NHS and is working in the private sector for a company called Buccaneer 2000 — which is, of course, exactly what a healthcare company would call itself in order to allay potential criticisms that it was backward-looking, heartless and rapacious. This is one of the series’ big problems. It wants to be naturalistic, almost fly-on-the-wall, observational comedy, with the dog wandering casually in and out, and parents and kids saying just the kind of things we all

Zero tolerance for anti-Zionists? The right is now as PC as the left

So now we know: the right and the respectable left are just as good at PC purges as potty, radical students are. In fact they’re better. The effective exiling of Ken Livingstone from polite society; yesterday’s almost hourly toppling of Labour councillors who once tweeted or Facebooked something ugly about Israel; the scouring of social media in search of Zionist-haters we might expose and shame and crush… all this zealous speech-policing, this crusading against people who said the unsayable, has made the intolerant, No Platforming student left look like amateurs in comparison. The right is out-PCing the left. I know what the warriors against anti-Semitic idiocy in sections of the


‘Why are you filming this?’ ‘For everyone’s safety.’ Those are the last words in a 46-second video that was watched by more than three million people on YouTube last week. The question was asked of the unseen cameraman by a black woman who had been haranguing a white youth at San Francisco State University for wearing dreadlocks (or the best he could manage with his weedy hair). I’ve written about being safe in universities before, but this incident focused on cultural appropriation, which is a new crime discovered by people who think it in fact misappropriation to adopt the cultural expression of another ethnic group. Search me. Of course the

Safe space in ancient Athens

Brilliant Oxford undergraduates argue that it is right to prevent us saying things they object to, because speech they do not like is the equivalent of actions they do not like. They had better not read classics, then. There is no safe space there. Greeks made a clear distinction between logos (‘account, reckoning, explanation, story, reason, debate, speech’, cf. ‘logic’ and all those ‘-ologies’) and ergon (‘work, deed, action’). For a Greek, to reject logos was to reject the expression of thought; and so to close down any possibility of people giving an account or reason for why they were thinking and acting as they did; and therefore to prevent any

Camilla Swift

The Spectator Podcast: Why political correctness is a good thing, George Osborne’s Budget, and the end of the rave

Is political correctness a good thing or a bad thing? As Simon Barnes writes in this week’s magazine, he used to think that people should be free to use whatever words they wanted to, in pursuit of truth and meaning. But having a son with Down’s syndrome has changed his mind. Now, he has seen the benefits that political correctness bring to society. On this week’s podcast, he and Isabel Hardman discuss whether being PC is a good thing with Tom Slater, Deputy Editor of Spiked. Yesterday’s Budget held a few surprises – but not that many. What it did do, as James Forsyth argues in his column this week, was bring the political

Bored of the dance

[audioplayer src=”http://rss.acast.com/viewfrom22/thespectatorpodcast-politicalcorrectness-budget2016andraves/media.mp3″ title=”The Spectator Podcast: The end of raving” startat=1080] Listen [/audioplayer]At 19, I dropped out of university to pursue a career as a rave promoter. I went into business with a schoolfriend. We rose through the ranks of party promotion, founded a record label, and started an annual dance music festival. After more than ten years, though, we’ve regretfully decided to close down. And here’s why: young people these days just don’t know how to rave. They are too safe and boring. Rave, like all youth movements, was meant to be about freedom, rebellion and pissing off your parents. Generations before us had alienated their elders with the help

In praise of PC

[audioplayer src=”http://rss.acast.com/viewfrom22/thespectatorpodcast-politicalcorrectness-budget2016andraves/media.mp3″ title=”The Spectator Podcast: Is PC a good thing?”] Listen [/audioplayer]Here’s another stock joke for your collection: Pembroke College, Cambridge, has cancelled a fancy dress party themed on Around the World in Eighty Days to ‘avoid the potential for offence’. One college has objected to the serving of sushi as ‘cultural appropriation’; another cancelled yoga lessons for the same reason. There is an inevitable backlash to this kind of puritanism — to ‘political correctness gone mad’. And it’s true: prissily expressed PC attitudes do often look silly. The problem is that, broadly speaking, they’re also right. I know this with immense certainty. Without the prevailing wind of political correctness

Godfrey Bloom puts his foot in it over Emma Thompson row

Yesterday saw a turn in fortune for the Out campaign after Emma Thompson declared her intention to vote to remain in the EU. The Nanny McPhee actress managed to upset those on both sides of the debate when she explained that without Europe, Britain is simply ‘a cake-filled misery-laden grey old island‘. Quite rightly a number of Brexit activists called her out on her negative comments, while even supporters of the In campaign seemed less than thrilled by the declaration. Alas, one Eurosceptic appears to have gone a step too far. Godfrey Bloom — the former Ukip MEP who had to resign from the party after he called female Ukip activists

High life | 11 February 2016

Gstaad I had the rather subversive idea of offering a six-figure sum to Oriel College, Oxford. On one condition: that the college immediately withdraw the Rhodes scholarship from the South African Ntokozo Qwabe, the hypocrite who led the campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes, and from any other recipients of Cecil’s munificence who are blackening his name a century later. It is the least these hypocrites deserve. Oxbridge has become a joke in the way it tries to emulate the LSE in radicalism and other such ludicrous poses. The group that called Jihadi John ‘a beautiful young man’ should be allowed to speak at Oxford, according to the