1 OCTOBER 1994, Page 27


Off for a spot of dragon-hunting in the land of Political Correctness


In some ways we can approach the mil- lennium in good spirits, secure in the knowledge that the 21st century is not going to repeat the mistakes of its woeful predecessor. The intellectual respectability of political and economic totalitarianism has been destroyed permanently. The democracies are in a position, if they have the moral courage, to police the world and ensure that totalitarian practice is eliminat- ed everywhere and that it does not creep back.

Here at home, the outlook is healthier because we have reversed the political ratchet effect. This mechanism worked entirely in favour of the Left, increasingly the coercive Left, from 1945 on. Policies enacted and institutions created by Labour administrations were accepted and operat- ed by subsequent Tory governments, and Labour went on to the next cog in the ratchet. There was no going back to recover lost freedoms. Keith Joseph argued that the ratchet should be destroyed, but his pupil, Margaret Thatcher, went one better and began to operate exactly the same proce- dure in favour of less coercion and more personal choice. She rewrote the entire agenda of British politics, drove through the changes and mobilised public opinion behind them as the new permanent facts of our public life. To stay in the game at all Labour was obliged to accept the Thatcher Revolution not merely as a fact, but as desirable, and then to preach the same message, just as Tories like Harold Macmillan dutifully extolled the virtues of the 'mixed economy' in the Fifties and Six- ties.

Tony Blair is the first leading opposition politician to get to the top under the reverse ratchet effect and to make the pro- cess the dynamic principle of his handling of affairs. He speaks the language of Thatcherism in the Labour vernacular. He uses words which his Labour followers find reassuring, like 'enabling', 'entitlement', `social partnership', 'socially provided', community' and 'commitment', but under this verbal veneer he makes no bones about abandoning statism and preferring a low- tax, voluntarist philosophy. In historical terms, therefore, Blair is markedly to the right of Hugh Gaitskell, marginally to the right even of that other brilliant Scotsman, Iain Macleod, with whom he has a strong affinity. The fact that a One Nation, Bow Group Conservative has now become a highly popular leader of the Labour Party is proof of how compre- hensively the ratchet effect has been reversed.

Underlying this movement at the politi- cal level is the continuing drift, at times a purposeful march, of intellectuals away from the Left. Whereas those of us who crossed the line in the 1970s revolted against the national misery of trade union tyranny and a vast state sector which plainly did not work — evils which Mrs Thatcher corrected in the 1980s — the new converts, many of them highly intelligent women, are rejecting the oppression of Political Cor- rectness and the miseries of moral anarchy. In an article in this week's Sunday Times, Sarah Baxter, herself in the process of rejecting the Left, calls the new wave of neophytes 'the recantation of the Right-on generation'. She calls attention not just to the writings of Melanie Phillips, whose recent philippic against Political Correct- ness (`The strange death of liberal Eng- land', 17 September) delighted Spectator readers, but to the warnings of Ruth Deech, principal of St Anne's, on the breakdown of the family and the menace of easy divorce. Principal Deech, who receives less attention than Baroness Blackstone, the fashionable Mistress of Birkbeck, is in fact a far more significant figure in academia, leading the way back to a free but morally ordered society based on self- discipline. She has a big following among women high-achievers, many of them from her own college, now one of Oxford's best.

In important respects there is nothing new in Political Correctness or in the way enlightened people are rejecting it. As A.L. Rowse points out in his new book, Regicides and the Puritan Revolution, there are uncan- ny parallels between the intolerant ideo- logues of the 1640s and 1650s and the aca- demic bigots of today, who wish to impose restrictive verbal and behavioural codes on all of us while claiming to expand liberty. Dryden summed up the hypocrisy of that time — and ours — in a superb phrase: `When real bonds false freedom did impose.' Again, the current battle against PC highlights the continuing contest of true democracy and the pressure groups which exploit it. The pressure groups I rebelled against in the 1960s and 1970s were the closed-shop unions, which were constrain- ing the freedoms of all of us, including the freedom of the press — more and more papers were appearing with blank spaces in protest against censorship by the print unions. Today's equivalents are the lobbies — the feminists, the homosexuals, the envi- ronmentalists, the animal rightists and so on — who, by perverting democratic proce- dures, impose extremist minority views on the hapless majority.

There is, however, one important change since the 1970s. In those days the ultimate source of totalitarian infection was Soviet Russia, the huge and baneful shadow over all our local 'struggles to curb unions or save Labour from militant savagery. The Evil Empire is now broken up and the threat from the East virtually removed, externally and internally.

Today the ideological diseases which rot free minds come from the United States, above all from its campuses, its media and its immensely powerful political pressure groups. America has always been a country where extremism of all kind flourishes. Polit- ical Correctness and compulsory moral anar- chy are modern manifestations of the same propensity which hanged unfortunate old women at Salem in the 1690s, made the Civil War possible, detonated the Red Scare in 1919 and McCarthyism in the late 1940s.

America always subdues these extrem- isms in the end, but the battle is often hard- fought and bloody. It is going on there fiercely at the moment. We in Europe, especially Britain, cannot remain idle spec- tators, for we are highly susceptible to America's intellectual complaints. PC and its attendant moral evils cannot be over- come here so long as they are winning in the United States. That is one reason why I intend to spend most of October lecturing there, making my own contribution to destroying the hydra-headed monster in the place where it was born, flourishes and is wreaking fearful destruction. For once we have decapitated it there it will die in Britain too.