How to start a political correctness scare


At the risk of trespassing on the territory Anton covers so well, I couldn’t help flagging up this story in today’s Mail as a shining example of how a political correctness story gets going. Furthermore, this revolves, as usual, around Harriet Harman, who seems to press a very particular button in the strange world of the Mail:

Labour is opening up a new front in its obsession with equal rights. It wants to stamp out prejudice against… Northerners.

The extraordinary plans are being dreamed up by Harriet Harman, the Government’s equalities supremo and Gordon Brown’s deputy.

Extraordinary? So what exactly is Lady Harman planning to do?

The Mail on Sunday has learned that she wants to introduce rules to halt discrimination against people from ‘up North’ and other regions, and has instructed her Equalities Office to look at ‘diversity proposals’ to stop Londoners and other Southerners lording it over the rest of the country.

Equalities Minister Michael Foster said the intention was to prevent membership of the boards of national public bodies being too ‘London-centric or South-East-centric’.

His remark will spark fears that hundreds of public organisations – from the Arts Council to the Big Lottery Fund – will be required to have special quotas for Yorkshiremen, Geordies or Cornishmen whenever a vacancy comes up on their boards.

Gotta love the weasel circumlocution “will spark fears”. The Mail doesn’t seem to have found anyone whose fears have actually been sparked – indeed, the article seems designed to spark fears. They have, however, got a quote from Theresa May (the Tory frontbencher, not the Page Three girl) making some anodyne remark about appointing people on merit, and another from rentaquote Tory MP Philip Davies, who loves these kind of stories, branding it “equal opportunities gone berserk”, which at least is a slight change from the usual “political correctness gone mad” that the Mail favours.

So what is the substance behind this? Well, it all seems to stem from comments made in an obscure parliamentary debate by Lady Harman’s sidekick Michael Foster. Yorkshire MP Meg Munn asked Foster about regional diversity on bodies – such as the Arts Council – that have a supposedly national remit but are virtually monopolised by people from London and its environs. Foster said this was an important point and the government would look at it. And that was it.

It’s not even as if it was a particularly bizarre question. If you know Cornwall, for instance, you’ll know that one major gripe in local politics is the way that quangos or statutory agencies are usually formed around a “Devonwall” remit – Devon and Cornwall Police is an obvious example – or are formed on the level of the “South West” planning region, an enormous area stretching as far as Swindon, and take little account of Cornwall’s needs. In the absence of specifically Cornish bodies, it would make sense to campaign for Cornish input into the broader bodies.

So the idea of regional balance isn’t a bad one, as long as we’re not talking about a crude system of automatic quotas. Not that I would put it entirely beyond New Labour to do such a thing, but it’s clear that hasn’t been proposed. In fact, nothing concrete has been proposed – Foster just said he was looking at the issue. All this is evident from the actual text of the article, but it doesn’t stand in the way of a good PC scare story.

Elsewhere in the Mail, there’s a big long article from Peter Sissons about his retirement from the BBC, and the falling journalistic standards thereof. Sissons, as one would expect, is bracing on the subject and makes a number of excellent points, although he does sound a little like a grumpy old man. This time at least he steers clear of assailing the “autocuties” now in vogue at the Beeb – their existence will be immediately apparent to anyone who watches News 24, but one does run the risk of sounding a little sexist for pointing this out. But on the plus side, Sissons does manage to come out as a supporter of the George W Bush line on climate change.

Still, for sheer offensiveness nothing today beats the Sunday Express‘s huge front-page splash of “Police Must Recruit Gypsies”, which builds its case on, well, a document from the Association of Police Authorities that discussed making police forces more representative of their communities. The Express, predictably, is outraged, and manages to insinuate that the recruitment of Romanichals or travellers into the police would endanger the public. Even the Police Federation wouldn’t provide a quote backing that up, only making the argument that recruitment standards shouldn’t be lowered to meet diversity targets.

On the other hand, the Express does manage to work in quotes from the Campaign Against Political Correctness (a husband-and-wife outfit specialising in providing quotes on these sort of stories), rentaquote Tory MP Philip Davies (this busy man acts as patron of the Campaign Against Political Correctness) and that old standby of the lazy journalist, the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Three for the price of one!

I’ll grant that it’s not the most offensive front-page splash the Express has ever run, or even the most offensive recent splash. But it does at least stand in a proud tradition.


  1. July 13, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    those poor anti-pc campaigners … they aren’t even anymore allowed to campaign for male white christian supremacy as in the “good old times” or to sent those who object to their rule to the workhouse or to Australia (or to hell or to Connaught)

  2. skidmarx said,

    July 14, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Andy Newman seems to have secretly introduced a rule stopping me posting on his blog. I could understand you getting upset by quotation from Lexx, the most powerful weapon in the two universes,but what is his problem.Here’s the comment:
    “Defenders of social democracy tend to argue that terible things will ensue unless workers act as doctors to capitalism in crisis. Frequently the terrible things happen anyway because the severity of the crisis means that capitalists demand more from workers than they are prepared to give except under compulsion. It is not ‘crisis-mongering’, but a sober reflection of historical experience to point this out. During the First World War Lenin quoted Schiller in support of his advocacy of revolution to end the bloodshed:’Better a horrible end than a horror without end.’ Perhaps today we should emend this to: Better a horrible end that saves humanity than one which destroys it.”
    From Making History by Alex Callinicos.

    It would be nice to know exactly what has offended the “spam filter” here.
    johng- another to add to your lexicon:social democracy without socialism or democracy. Though rather predated by the old adage that the Communist Party of Great Britain was more Great British than communist.

    Latest from the BBC:
    Chinese police kill two Uighurs

    Listening to an interview with one of the Bermuda Uighurs on the World Sevice, one of them told the BBC interviewer “unlike you, we’ve never known what it’s like to be free.” chjh- I think there is more to be said about China’s relative strength vis-a-vis American imperialism, I’ve been thinking about the 19th century situation where the British navy was supposed to be at least as strong as the next two strongest navies combined, yet could not enforce its will on other powers willy-nilly. Also the situation of those who have lived in societies where the balance between force and consent has shifted toward the former, without becoming an apologist for bourgeois democracy it seems important to understand how there is a pull in such societies towards it.

    And then I had a bit more to say:

    It seems OK for David Ellis to make comments like “Fuck off Johng, you are the yapping meerkat of Western intervention, a true Kautskyite.” Andy Newman seemed to welcome a debate at #184 “Skidmarx in the unlikely event that you are trying to make a serious point…”.but at the end of the day in the fullness of time when all is asid and done, he’d rather throw his toys out of the pram.Here’s the assassination of John Fitzgerald Rees considered as a downmarket motor home gag again:

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