by Martin Odoni

Okay, I’ve realised just as I’m gathering my thoughts to write this that I am about to give air to a lot of eye-roll-inducing behaviours. I’m going to be guilty of name-dropping, of talking about experiences on social media as though they’re as big a deal as what happens in the real world, and congratulating myself on my own jokes – jokes that are painfully old at that. So in advance I ask you please to forgive me, and to trust me when I say that I do have a legitimate point to make.

So let me begin with the name-dropping bit. Bonnie Greer, that most American of British authors, yesterday started, perhaps inadvertently, a bit of a Twitter-storm with a mildly vexed Tweet aimed at right-wingers who insist on following her on the Internet. I doubt I need to give too much explanation of the recent and still thriving trend on Twitter, going by the hashtag #CameronMustGo, but it appears that Ms Greer has taken some grief from hyper-sensitive right-wingers for taking part in the trend; –

Now to the self-congratulation-for-old-jokes part. This Tweet led to a large number of lefties – myself probably the main cheerleader, I must confess – immediately responding by Tweeting endless mock-requests not to use the hashtag in future, and discussing very precisely why. It’s the ancient, “Don’t-mention-an-elephant?-All-right-I-won’t-mention-an-elephant-I’ll-never-say-elephant-I’ll-never-use-the-word-elephant-again-and-I’ll-just-go-and-tell-everyone-else-not-to-say-elephant-either” ad infinitum joke i.e. using the ‘offending’ word over-and-over to put on a mock-display of co-operating with not using it.

Loads of other Tweeters joined in, and it made for a mildly diverting half-an-hour, during which the #CameronMustGo hashtag seemed to turn into the Twitter equivalent of saying “MacBeth!” in Blackadder The Third. (How I hope right-wingers genuinely do have to pinch each other’s noses every time they read #CameronMustGo.)

But what struck me while all this was going on was that we were only bothering to make fun like this because right-wingers were getting offended by the hashtag and wanted it stopped. It’s a silly thing to be offended by; you might disagree with it, you might not, but taking actual offence is just silly, as it is to assume a personal insult instead of a democratic judgement of a Government’s apparent inability to govern.

This leads on to identifying yet another example of right-wing hypocrisy. It’s not just that Tory voters, and even more so UKIPpers and BNP supporters, are generally far more consistent in using personal abuse as a standard debating tactic. It’s also that when they say something genuinely offensive, prejudiced and counter-productive, if others voice objections, the reflexive response of the right-winger will be to sneer at ‘political correctness’.

Now as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am certainly no fan of political correctness, at least by its most accurate definition. Real ‘PC’ is an exercise in abolishing words that are not offensive or derogatory in any real way, but have a connotation that is e.g. words such as ‘Black’, ‘Jew’ or ‘Indian’ often cause people to wince, even though they are just straightforward descriptive noun-adjectives. The derogatory terms ‘N*gger’, ‘K*ke’ or ‘R*dskin’, by very ugly contrast, most definitely are offensive and really should never be used. But because the non-offensive terms are seen as almost synonymous, there is a creeping tendency to want to avoid using them as well. The difficulty this leads to is that we then have to use other words in their place, and the same tendency will gradually push us into abolishing them too. (Anyone who goes along with that impulse to avoid saying ‘Black’, ‘Jew’ or ‘Indian’, I should just add, are arguably as prejudiced as explicit racists, as the slur-alternatives are not really synonyms particularly, and it is only an unspoken prejudice that would drive people to think otherwise.)

The problem is that the racist fringes of the right tend to extend the label of ‘political correctness’ to any objections to any terminology they use at all, genuinely offensive or otherwise, and because political correctness is often held to be a symptom of being uptight and anti-freedom-of-expression, that allows the right-wingers to sneer at the person they’re arguing with. So, as a Jew by birth, I would find it very objectionable, and not just untrue, to hear someone arguing that “K*kes are all money-grabbing scum.” But if I were to object, the right-winger would almost certainly sneer that I was being ‘PC’ – especially if he didn’t realise in advance that I am a Jew myself.

It would be just about possible to put up with this, were it not for the fact that, as the example of the #CameronMustGo hashtag demonstrates, the right wing desire for freedom-of-speech only works in one direction. The desire to allow people to spread hateful, dishonest slurs, based on wildly-generalised and often utterly mythological stereotypes is the far-right idea of freedom-of-speech, and they will defend that right to their last drop of the lager they drink while throwing insults from their armchairs. There is even a rather perplexing notion among them that being so offensive is somehow ‘courageous’.

But this does not apparently extend to the right to argue that the Prime Minister is doing a bad job, both morally and practically. Even if we can then back the accusation up with supporting evidence and reasoned arguments. Apparently that is offensive and unfair, and as we have seen, many on the right object bitterly to people saying it.

It doesn’t stop there either. The right get outraged when you suggest all sorts of ideas to them. Suggest to them that wages should go up for the majority, most of these people will immediately cry, “Communist!!!!” at you, as though a mere label – which isn’t even accurately-applied in this case – will automatically invalidate the suggestion. Suggest to them that the British Police should be held accountable for shooting Mark Duggan, or for the cover-up after the Hillsborough Disaster, these people will scold you for being a ‘wishy-washy liberal’ (just labels again), and then may even insist that the victims ‘brought it on themselves’. Their responses will be similar should you suggest to them that women should receive equal pay for equal work. Actually go to the extent of suggesting that you favour socialism over capitalism, and they’ll start raging about Josef Stalin and Chairman Mao at you. And that’s just the psychotics running the Daily Mail. They expect the label to invalidate you, to defeat you, and to silence you – to make you realise that you have no right even to say what you said.

You see, the right wing is in fact far more in favour of everyone being ‘politically correct’ than the left is. The only differences are that the parameters of right wing ‘PC’ are more doctrinally-titular, while the impulse behind it isn’t to protect the vulnerable from unfair criticism, but to nip discussions in the bud i.e. to protect the powerful and advantaged from having to enter into moral debates that they have no hope of winning.

So next time a thuggish, semi-literate keyboard-basher from UKIP or the English Defence League – or indeed a Tory in many cases – snarls at you for being ‘PC’, just tell him that you’re a socialist. Seriously, tell him that, even if you’re not. Then when he squeals at you for being an evil world-power-seeking Marxist, just tell him to stop being so ‘PC’. He probably won’t see what you’re getting at, as right-wingers seldom have any sense of irony. But at least you’ll be able to enjoy the joke, even if it makes him more confused. Indeed, perhaps even because of it.