I sometimes wonder just what is happening to us in the 21st century world of free speech, the politically correct world of free speech that is. In this mad world there are just certain things that you can’t say and certain things you can’t criticise without someone accusing you of sexism, racism or basically any other kind of ‘ism’! Then again, my mother always used to say, never talk about politics or religion and you’ll get on fine.
This week Boris Johnson is in the news for saying that Muslim women in burkas ‘look like letterboxes’ and the whole world, or so it seems is up in arms because this means that jovial Boris is Islamaphobic! He wrote the comments in a newspaper article and I thought he was just trying to take a serious subject and inject some good old British humour, pretty much just like this blog post. How wrong I was!
On the other side of the political divide, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party are not exempt from allegations either. Not allegations of Islamophobia but this time antisemitism.
These allegations seem to stem from a speech made by Ken Livingstone, the former London mayor, who mentioned in a speech that Hitler was, or so he thought, a Zionist. A Zionist, as far as I know, is someone who believes in a Jewish homeland and Hitler appeared to believe in that for a time, as it was a way to get the Jews out of Nazi Germany but then in his madness he went one step further and with Himmler and the SS created the Holocaust, an attempt to wipe out the entire Jewish race.
I’m not quite certain what Livingstone was trying to get at or what point he was trying to make but the Labour party is still suffering from these allegations even though Ken Livingstone has been expelled from the party, which is a shame because I always thought he was an interesting and articulate politician.
One other element of this situation concerns an international ‘definition’ of antisemitism which Labour has declined to accept, as this definition severely limits any kind of criticism of Israel and its current attitude towards the Palestinians. So not adopting this definition is hardly anti-Semitic, it is just a choice made by reasonable men. Some people think the whole thing is a stick which the right wing of the party are using to attack Jeremy Corbyn with, as he is seen by some as too left wing. Oh well, that’s politics for you.
Today, British and Western society are pretty tolerant of others’ sexual preferences. I remember years ago, seeing a programme on TV in which the sexual antics of the late MP Alan Clark were being discussed and someone, I forget who, in fact it may have been just an ordinary member of the public, answered this to a question about Clark’s numerous affairs. ‘At least he wasn’t a poufter!’
Personally, and it may be politically incorrect to admit this, I found it rather funny. Today when at least one MP I know of and another ex-minister are rather fond of Brazilian rent boys, Alan Clark’s antics are perhaps hardly worthy of comment.
The other day I sat down with my tea to watch channel 4’s Dinner Date. Now this isn’t one of the great TV shows of all time, in fact it’s pretty tame really but I do like it, even though it’s something I really only watch when I settle down to eat my tea. It’s a pretty simple format; a man or woman sits down to scan through five possible dinner menus devised by five possible dinner dates. Only three can be chosen so then the fellow, or the lady, meet with three blind dates, each serving him/her a home cooked meal as per the menu. At the end of the show, the diner chooses one of their dates to take to a restaurant for a proper date. Sometimes all turns out well, sometimes not. At the end of each show there’s a little teaser, John and Janet exchanged phone numbers, but haven’t seen each other again. My favourite was when Terry and Angela had another date then moved in with each other!
Anyway, I know I’m rambling on so I’ll get to the point. The other week I was watching it and the guy was looking through his menus and then the first blind date comes on to introduce the meals and it was another man. Yes, it was a gay version. A gay man chooses three gay dates and hopes to find love.
Sorry but it wasn’t my cup of tea so I turned it off.
You turned the programme off Mr Higgins?
Yes your honour, I turned the programme off. I just wasn’t enjoying it.
So you just turned the programme off? Do you not realise that diversity should be welcomed?
Well when it’s about a man and a woman it’s really quite a fun sort of programme but in this one when it was a man talking about other men that he fancies and what turns him on in a man; well it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Mr Higgins are you a communist?
Me? No your honour.
Mr Higgins are you now or have ever been a member of the Communist Party?
What? No I’m not a communist I just didn’t like that particular episode. In fact I was discussing it with a couple of my friends and they didn’t like it either.
Was this a meeting? A communist party meeting?
No, not a meeting. Just me and some friends having a few pints.
Who were these friends? What are their names?
THE ACCUSED LOOKS ABOUT THEN RACES FROM THE COURTROOM, SECURITY PEOPLE HOT ON HIS HEELS.
Have I covered all the no go area of today’s sensitive society? No, there is one remaining issue which I really must tackle.
The other day I was listening to Radio 4. It was a programme discussing Boris Johnson. One lady being interviewed described herself as a woman of colour. I thought, what is that about? Perhaps it’s not politically acceptable to call yourself black these days, instead you must be a person of colour. I must be a little behind the times then with twenty first century PC speak but what does that make me then as a white person? Am I a person of no colour? Clearly I do have some colour, in fact I’m usually rather pink although just lately after experiencing the hottest summer in the UK since 1976, I am really rather brown. Am I a brown person then?
Not so long ago I was filling in an application form for a new job. Towards the end of a form I came across another document about my racial identity. This of course is 21st Century UK not apartheid South Africa so the question took me a little by surprise. There were two obvious answers, one was White British and the other was White English. Anyway I finally found a third option which was the one I decided to take.
It was prefer not to say.
If you have been offended by the content of this blog, well I’m not sure what I can do about it. You could go for a lie down or maybe even go for a quick pint down at your local. If you need counselling please call somebody. I’m not sure who but you could always have a look in the phone book.
Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.