19 FEBRUARY 2000, Page 12


Matthew Parris identifies the dead dogma

and self-serving euphemisms of right-wing PC

ARE you politically sound?

Are you sound on field sports, sound on the countryside, sound on immigration? Are you sound on the Union, on buggers and on the Common Market? Are you sound on the monarchy? Are you sound on Diana? Are you sound on Enoch, Mar- garet, Jonathan and Neil?

Ever ready to laugh at others, we on the Right are in danger of losing our ability to laugh at ourselves. As we ridicule the po-faced puritans of the Left, we forget how ripe for ridicule are the sniffy cer- tainties of our own creed. Alert to the pursed lips and whining intolerance of the politically correct, we have lost our ear for the bark of the patriotically cor- rect. But we too, we who are PS — the politically sound — have our thought police, our pursed lips and our mental phrasebook of sound (and unsound) expres- sions, sound (and unsound) attitudes, sound (and unsound) belief.

General Lee Bhum Suk of South Vietnam used to open press conferences for sniggering journalists by declaring, 'I am Lee Bhum Suk. Yes, that is indeed how it is pronounced. Please all laugh at my name now, and then we can get on with the press conference.' So shall we all have another good belly- laugh at the politically correct, agree that they are often silly and sometimes sinister, acknowledge that the Left at least have been laughing at their own idiocies for the last decade or more — and then move on? Perhaps we too are becoming ridiculous and need a bit of joshing.

A final word, then, about political cor- rectness. Contrary to the more spluttering columnists of the why-oh-why? school, PC is almost exclusively an Anglo-Saxon affliction, contracted from the academic world in the United States and not from the political class in Continental Europe where they remain astonishingly politically incorrect. Only recently has the museum in Banyoles, a little town near where my family live in Catalonia, removed the stuffed African from its exhibits.

Perhaps we forget the true progenitor of PC mentality: the Protestant conscience. We overlook the ways in which that keen sense of the appropriate and inappropriate with which all the English-speaking peoples are imbued from the cot can be used as an instrument of conservatism too. We have ceased to notice the myriad subtle ways in which our own PS police patrol language and thought. Here are just a few examples, some dos and don'ts: a first stab at a Politi- tally Sound lexicon

A is for Aids. Do say 'Aids' even when this is incorrect. 'HIV' is politically unsound, revealing a suspiciously thought- ful grasp of the pathology of the disease. It is politically unsound to sport an Aids rib- bon, the wearing of which is dismissed as `terribly PC, of course. But I don't see why people have to wear their sympathies on their sleeves. One can care about Aids without advertising the fact.' The wearing of a poppy on Remembrance Day is, how- ever, obligatory. One cannot care about the war dead without advertising the fact.

B is for Blood Sports. Don't. The word is deeply unPS. Say 'country pursuits' or 'field sports'. An engulfing concern for 'the rural way of life' and 'rural employment' is PS. Concern for the coalminers' traditional way of life is unPS. C is for Chair. Don't. As unsound as you can get. Always 'chairman'. Any reference to 'the Chair' must be greeted with 'Isn't that an item of furniture, ha ha?'

D is for Diana. Don't. Unsound. Silly girl. An awful shame, of course. We support Charles. It is PS to be in favour of the monarchy as a system, but it is not PS to gush about the royal family as individuals, except possibly the Queen.

E is for Europe, or, as the PS like to insist, `the Common Market'. Take care, here. The truly PS emphasise how devoted they are to Europe (glories of Florence, Bach, Puligny Montrachet, etc.), which is not to be con- fused with 'Brussels'(in PS usage invariably employed dis- paragingly) or the single cur- rency. 'Dear me, the poor old euro seems to have taken another battering on the cur- rency markets today' must be uttered with apparently gen- uine concern. The politically sound speaker 'takes no plea- sure' in the travails of the euro.

F is for Fayed. For the sound, racist language is just about PS in this exceptional case.

G is for Gay. Don't. This must never be used to mean 'homosexual'. If others fall into such usage, the PS response is 'Whatever have they done to that good old-fashioned little word "gay"?' or 'Can we have our word back, please?' [But see 'Queer'.] H is for Haider. Carefully does it. Sensi- tive treatment is required of PS speakers. The keynote expression is 'counter-produc- tive', implying that attacks on Haider may only increase his domestic popularity. PS speakers, are uneasy about the question of anti-Semitism. It is never sound to express anti-Semitism unless the person doing so is himself Jewish, in which case his remarks will be received with some pleasure.

I is for Am I alone? Fundamental to the `mindset' (dread word!) of the politically sound is the shared pretence that we who hold these opinions are somehow a perse- cuted minority. Phrases such as 'Dare I say • . ?"I realise this is an unfashionable thought, but . . . ' or 'Are we allowed these days to observe . ?' are useful in this cause.

J is for Jonathan. For the PS, Aitken is a gallant Etonian whose only fault was to be a trifle buccaneering in his approach. 'Buc- caneer' is also a useful PS word to describe any well-connected right-wing crook. Left- wing crooks are described as crooks. Neil Hamilton was a 'maverick'. Socialist liars are called liars.

K is for Kilometres. Don't. All metric measurements are unPS, unless used deri- sively. Make an elaborate fuss about trying to convert petrol prices in litres into pence per gallon. 'Give 'em 2.54 centimetres and they'll take 1.6093 kilometres, ha ha' is an endlessly amusing joke among politically sound.

L is for Love-child. Don't. The expression is unPS but, 'bastard' being too rude and `illegitimate' being borderline, the sound are left with the unwieldy 'born out of wed- lock'. Having at first objected to 'lover' as well as 'common-law wife', PS speakers are now objecting to the perfectly useful term `partner', too (Are you going into business together, ha ha?'). M is for Ms. Don't. The politically sound never say Ms except sneeringly, as in `Mzzzz, ha ha'. N is for the Net. Don't. The expression is not PS because it suggests expert acquain- tance with information technology, which is unPS. 'This Internet thingy' will generally serve, 0 is for the Ozone Layer. Don't. The sound doubt the likelihood of ozone depletion or global warming and treat such matters with sceptical levity (I'm all for these so-called holes in the ozone layer. Faster tan. And ris- ing sea-levels? Hooray! Drown all those council estates in Middlesbrough, wherever that is, ha ha.' PS people are suspicious of anything scientists say and which PC people believe. It is not PS to be completely con- vinced yet of the link between smoking and cancer. Passive smoking does not, in PS speech, exist. Alcoholism is regarded either with levity or as a regrettable condition which can affect sound people. All other drugs must be spoken of with horror. P is for Pinochet. He did wonders for the Chilean economy. Q is for Queer. When the word is used to describe homosexuals it is not PS to com- plain (as PS speakers do in the case of gay') that English has been robbed of a perfectly useful little word. The sound do not want this word `back'; we 'homosexual- ists' (PS-word) can have it for ourselves. Incidentally, 'sexuality' is non-PS, as is gender' and 'ethnicity', the correct expres- sions (in reverse order) being 'race', 'sex' and 'which team is he playing for?'. R is for Race. 'Enoch was right, of course.' The sound take care never quite to specify what Enoch was right about. It is seldom PS to express overtly racist views. A politically sound speaker suggests that it is a regrettable fact' that the British popula- tion contains a number of people consider- ably less civilised than himself. 'It is a regrettable fact' finds extensive PS use as a means of distancing the speaker personally from this or that nasty prejudice which he is about to pray in aid. S is for Scotland. The sound are shifting on devolution and there is at present no agreed politically sound attitude or lan- guage. It is PS to express attachment to the Union, but it is now permissible to add that, if the beastly Celts are so ungrateful as to refuse the delights Union offers, then good riddance to them. Overt English nationalism, however, is not quite sound yet. It is suspected of having something to do with football.

T is for Thatcher. She can do and did do no wrong. It is perfectly PS, however, to chuckle that the old girl went a bit batty in the end, ha ha — but only in the context of unbounded admiration for her achieve- ments and personal merits. U is for Ulster. The politically sound sup- port the Unionists almost without reserva- tion and make no serious distinction between republicanism and terrorism. It is PS to display a remarkably detailed knowl- edge of Irish history, dropping obscure dates and battles into the conversation and assuming your listener shares your learn- ing. It is PS to feel very deeply about Ire- land, expressing sympathy with an intransigent position which the Unionists themselves have long abandoned. It is not, however, PS to go native or talk like one. References to 'Prods' can be PS so long as made with jocular affection. We support them from the outside. We do not neces- sarily invite them to dinner. V is for Vulcan. John Redwood is a prob- lem for the politically sound. In his anti- Europeanism, his mutinies against Major, his free-market economics and his social conservatism, Mr Redwood cannot be faulted. But as a PS pin-up and possible leader he is somehow just not quite right. He is referred to by the PS with cautious regard. So is the present Conservative leader — 'but of course he scores well in the House'. It is not PS to mention William Hague's Yorkshire accent slightingly; this is achieved by deploring 'that nasal voice'.

`You can't come out of the closet until you've eaten your sprouts.' W is for — pronounced thus with sneering emphasis whenever the inten- tion is to mock the equal-opportunities brigade or 'so-called' feminists. 'Margaret was a feminist in the best sense, of course. Never talked about it.' The PS are much in favour of minorities who don't talk about it, `thrust it down our throats', 'push it too far', etc. and like to give the impression of being under siege, except when they themselves are mounting the campaign, It is not PS to be a Eurosceptic in the best sense, of never talking about it. In summary, the Left 'bang on' about their causes while the sound 'dig in our heels' about ours.

X is for Xenophobia. Don't. The political- ly sound speaker is anxious not to be taken for a Little Englander, which would be vul- gar. He is, however, happy to be accused of xenophobia since this gives him the oppor- tunity to protest a passionate belief in free trade with the whole world, which 'Brus- sels' is trying to block. Towards America in particular the PS speaker is ambivalent, affecting huge disdain for American cul- ture (Mickey Mouse, McDonald's, etc.) while confessing a swelling interest in Nafta. He has not seriously tried to recon- cile his belief (in the European case) that with economic union must come political submersion, with his implied supposition that we would somehow not be 'swamped' by the United States. 17 is for Yah. Do. Though it is important to distinguish PS speech from `U' speech (in Nancy Mitford's sense), the use of `yah' to mean 'yes' is a remarkably good indica- tor of political soundness. That Michael Portillo should recently have interrupted a questioner with `yah, yah, yah, yah' — and nothing else — shows how anxious he is to be thought completely sound. But he may have to do more than this.

Z is for the Zulu Question. PS people have never wholly reconciled themselves to the strange survival of post-apartheid South Africa. Nor, secretly, have they accepted the bona fides of Nelson Mandela (`that chap who wears shirts on telly, ha ha'). They keep waiting for the whole thing to go off the rails, which of course they will greatly regret, but which will not entirely surprise them. The knowledgably PS way to signal this subtle position is to mention the Zulu Question. 'Of course, the Zulu nation has not spoken yet, but will. They are fear- some when roused, as we Brits discovered at Rorke's Drift.' This means hope it all comes unstuck'.

We have only scratched the surface and, besides, lists can never substitute for an instilled sense of what belonging to a mind- set is all about. So let us try to sum up the feeling of being politically sound. The PS mentality combines a secret consciousness of being in the majority with the pseudo- plaintive tone of the put-upon. The PS voice is confident of the sympathy of the pack. It is the whimper-bark of the natural bully, eternally convinced that his victim is picking the fight.