Tim Loughton is the Member of Parliament for East Worthing and Shoreham, and was Parliamentary Under Secretary for Children and Families from 2010 until 2012. Follow Tim on Twitter.
Are you or have you ever been a homophobe seems
to have become the new McCarthyism of our age? Given the urgency and frenzy of
the lobby pushing forward the Gay Marriage Bill you wouldn’t think that no one
had actually been able to give it a democratic mandate at the last election. At
the evidence sessions of the committee which has just finished scrutinising the
legislation Labour MPs tore into the Catholic Bishops as if they were
prosecutors at a war crimes trial.
If you are not in favour of gay marriage then
clearly you must be against equal rights for gay people so the flawed logic
goes. Being an enthusiastic supporter of civil partnerships legislation and the
full equality in the eyes of the law that it brought for same sex couples back
in 2004 is not good enough apparently. Gay marriage has become this season’s
new black and if you have a problem with that then you are written off not just
as a fashionista lightweight but a full-blown bigot. The irony of the
intolerance this demonstrates on the part of those pushing for greater
tolerance of those with a different sexual orientation is not lost on many.
It is the ‘if you are not actively for
some specific measure then you must be positively against the cause’
mentality that has become the hallmark of the thought police that we
increasingly have to look out for over our shoulders to avoid coming a cropper.
It is also the fuel for one of the most insidious and destructive forces at
work in society today, namely political correctness. It can affect MPs in no
less a way than our constituents. Indeed there are some cases where we are more
vulnerable prey as my debate in the Commons last week showed.
I recounted how recently I had been the subject
of a criminal investigation by Sussex Police. I was the victim of vexatious
allegations from an all too vexing constituent not on account of sexism but
racism. In a nutshell the vexed constituent had been placed on the local
council’s ‘Customer of Concern’ list and on the obligatory paperwork under the
section ‘description’ was referred to as ‘unkempt.’ When approached I said that
the Council’s description seemed eminently accurate.
Before you could shout PC49 I had been summoned
to a 90 minute interview under caution in a police custody suite on account of
my constituent complaining that my comment was racist because he was of ‘Romany
Gypsy origin.’ Unkempt, Romany = racist? Your guess is as good as mine, but
because my constituent claims to have ‘perceived it as racist’ it becomes a
legitimate full blown investigation. The fact neither I nor the Council had any
idea that the complainant in question was of Romany Gypsy origin and he was
apparently not required to prove it didn’t enter into the equation. Six
months, six different police officers and goodness knows how much taxpayers’
money later the case was summarily dropped by the CPS as baseless.
But the damage had been done not least to me as
someone who has always stood up against racist bullies. How have the police
apparently become so systematically beholden to political correctness that
proportionality and common sense have flown out of the window? Risk aversion
and independent thinking have replaced common sense judgements as certain
senior police officers are fearful of doing anything that conflicts with the
manual and might jeopardise their careers with head office.
Tales of political correctness in everyday life
are common place: the care home in Brighton which was threatened with having
its local authority funding cut because they refused to comply with a demand to
survey their octogenarian residents every three months about their sexual
orientation; or the special manual for police on how to arrest witches. Throw
in the everyday hum drum of councils who ban bingo callers from causing offence
to the two fat ladies at 88 or primary schools which ban valentine cards to
protect pupils from the emotional trauma of being dumped, and then you often
have to check whether April 1st has become a weekly occurrence. My
all time favourite though is the case of the 10 year old boy questioned by
police on suspicion of racial harassment after he hummed the Crazy Frog tune
outside a French teacher’s house!
At its most moderate it provides amusing
knocking copy, but too often at its worst it is seriously undermining good race
relations, trust in our public institutions and an Englishman’s (or woman’s)
right to free speech. In this case it is positively dangerous when it
apparently exercises so much time by our already stretched law enforcers. If
MPs can fall foul of it then clearly anyone can and it’s time we fought back. I
am ready to don my gender neutral, non aggressive, culturally sensitive armour
for the crusade (correction- secular expedition) – who’s with me?