Let me take as my text today some words of Douglas Carswell. I know how much some of my readers admire him. I will take words he has written since deciding to join UKIP, as some of you seem to object to quoting anything he said before this week.
“I am not against immigration”. ” The one thing more ugly than nativism, is angry nativism”. “We should welcome those who want to come here to contribute……There’s hardly a hospital, GP surgery or supermarket in the country that could run without that skill and drive.” That so far is what we know of his current position on the hottest topic of the day. It is a generous sentiment, but not a crowd pleaser with his UKIP audience. His only concession is he does think the UK authorities rather than the EU should determine policy in this area, as I do.
I have been thinking a lot recently about political correctness. The reflex reaction of many Conservatives and UKIP ers is to condemn it, claiming it is one of the reasons so many mistakes have been made in public policy. The most recent mass tragedies of childcare in Rotherham are seen as an example, as it was not politically correct to draw attention to the origins of many of the perpetrators of the crimes. Political correctness seemed to get in the way of reporting crime and pursuing criminals.
Mr Carswell sees political correctness as politeness, and welcomes it. I can see both his view and the conservative reaction to it. The truth is as a society we are struggling to find a language which does not offend a wide range of different religious and ethnic groups in our society, which at the same time helps bind us to a common outlook and also allows us to condemn and prosecute those who violate our common law and values.
I have spent all too much time on this site protecting some contributors from themselves when they seek to generalise wildly and unfavourably about individual religions, countries and ethnic groups. In this I am with Mr Carswell. It is not helpful or polite to accuse a whole religion or a whole race of general misconduct, bad attitudes or anti social approaches. It is wounding to many members of that group who may themselves be decent and law abiding, and who not share the bad characteristic ascribed to the group. I do not extend the same degree of protection to my own groups – white, male, Conservative! I understand people’s wishes to let off steam and air their frustrations, and my groups have usually learned to wear thicker skins.
Affording protection to differing religions, social values and attitudes is a crucial characteristic of an advanced mature democracy. Upholding a common law is another. We are tolerant of people practicing their own religion, but we do not intend to base our civil and criminal law codes on a particular religious view. We are happy for people to live as they wish, subject to a common law on matters of wider importance like property rights, marriage, and the upbringing of children. It is always a difficult balance to strike. Parliament is constantly adjusting it. However, today to be British means agreeing that girls and boys should have equal opportunities, that all should have a full time education to 16 with other options to 18, that you only are married to one person at a time, that violence – or physical punishment – is not allowed within the family any more than outside it. Those who disagree with this and related matters have to campaign for change by peaceful means.
Other matters cause tensions. We do not set out as legislators to tell people generally what they should wear, and what they should eat. In extreme cases we do. It is not permissible in the UK to walk about in public revealing intimate body parts. There are also strong taboos, as with our social dislike of eating horse and dog meat. Those who are unhappy about the otherness of some people’s dress and lifestyle have to accept that there are limits to how far legislators should go in banning items. Similarly those who wish to live their lives differently need to consider the impact it has on the wider community, their chosen country. Even with good law codes to encourage and enforce toleration in most things, there will be prejudices against people who differentiate themselves too much by dress, attitude and demeanour.
In a country of volunteers who wish to be here, we want more common feeling and shared values. Divisive language achieves the opposite. Divisive conduct is either against the law, or damaging to the very society people have joined.