Speech in Stafford
"Political correctness gone mad.
It's a phrase almost all of us have used at one time or another. In fact, it's a cliché.
But like all clichés, there is more than an element of truth behind it.
In Britain today, political correctness has gone mad. And it is driving people crazy.
There are so many examples of political correctness, it's hard to know where to start.
But here are just a few, to get us going.
Staff warned by their local council not to drape England flags from office windows during the last World Cup - in case it offended those supporting other teams.
A father of four who chased a gang of vandals with a rolling pin for his own protection because they had just smashed his shop window was bound over to keep the peace and charged with carrying an offensive weapon.
A magistrate who, when considering a publican's request for an extra hour's drinking, ruled that St George's Day was not 'a special occasion' - even though the publican had not encountered any such problem with a similar request for the Chinese Year of the Goat.
It would be easy to go on and on, because the examples are countless.
The Effects of Political Correctness
In some cases, the exercise of political correctness is relatively harmless. It provides good knocking copy for fulminating commentators, or for late night radio chat shows.
But in many other cases it is not. We cannot simply dismiss every example as an isolated case of stupidity or zeal or plain barminess.
The systematic spread of political correctness has a corrosive effect on our society.
It makes people believe that there is something odd about what would otherwise be considered normal behaviour.
It provides officials with an excuse to meddle and interfere in people's lives, where they have no business to.
It leads to expensive, time-consuming and pointless litigation.
It plays into the hands of extremists.
And it undermines people's respect for the institutions of our country.
Principles we support
Of course, political correctness did not emerge from nowhere.
Like many of the problems in our society, it arises from the corruption of a noble ideal.
In many ways, Britain is a much kinder, gentler and more tolerant nation than it was fifty years ago. We have made great strides in terms of opportunities for every one in our society, whatever their background.
We will always support measures that deal head on with the cancer of discrimination. That is why I have supported and will always support sensible measures to combat race, disability and sex discrimination. And it is why, for example, I support civil partnerships.
Over the last forty years or so, measures like these have made a real difference to millions of men, women and children in Britain.
But such measures do not constitute political correctness. They are, in fact, about plain common sense, decency, humanity. These are all the characteristics of a civilised society.
Decent people don't want to go around harming or causing gratuitous offence to others.
And it is right that the law is there to stop the indecent minority that do.
Political Correctness: Lack of Balance and Common Sense
But this kind of intervention is no excuse for the wholesale assault on common sense and individual responsibility that we see today.
We have lost any sense of balance and proportion.
Consider what is happening in our schools today.
In 2000, a Government-backed booklet warned nursery teachers that playing 'musical chairs' encouraged aggressive behaviour.
One school banned pupils from making daisy chains in case they picked up germs.
I understand some schools do not allow teachers to apply sun block to young children before playtime with the absurd result that the children have to apply it to themselves. By the time they've cleaned up the mess, playtime is over.
A Pancake Day race for 40 primary school children in Devon was almost cancelled this year after the school was told it would cost £280 to insure, and required a detailed risk assessment and 25 marshals.
In 2002, the Government advised schools to replace traditional sports days with group `problem-solving' exercises.
In April this year, some Scottish schools were apparently told that football matches with a five nil score or above should re-start at zero after half time, to prevent the losing team being humiliated.
And one young people's football league tried to censor local press match reports for the same reason.
Everyone recognises the need not to put undue pressure on our children. But the examples I have quoted above take molly-coddling to the nth degree. Our children still need to understand, at home and at school, that life is not always fair and that it will, from time to time, deal them hard blows. That is how they learn to deal with them and overcome them.
Everyone also recognises the need to protect children from harm. But you will recall the recent case of the primary school teacher accused of sellotaping over a child's mouth even though the children had regarded it as fun.
The case actually reached court where the Judge described it as `clearly no more than a bit of light-hearted fun in the classroom'. He dismissed the charge, saying the case should never have been brought. He criticised the `indignity' of the police arresting the teacher and said that, in forcing a nine-year-old to come to court and give evidence, the prosecution had 'not reflected the girl's interests'.
So why was that case brought? Why isn't there much greater realism in such cases, with more caution exercised about bringing them to court when it is clearly not in the public interest to do so? Has there been guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service to stop cases like this reoccurring? And if not, why not? Why have we heard nothing from the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney General about this?
As well as the threat of pointless prosecution, teachers are also subject more and more to frivolous faddism. I gather that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority now wants teachers to carry out 117 assessments on each five year old that they teach. Apparently they want to know whether an individual five year old - a five year old - and now I quote "understands that [she or he] can expect others to treat her or his needs, views, cultures and beliefs with respect".
This is meaningless waffle. It is, I suspect, almost impossible to assess. Rather, it is a self-conscious and inappropriate nod to multiculturalism by the QCA which ends up increasing teachers' workload, undermining respect for the organisation, and diverting resources away from the basic need to teach children.
This is an example of losing any sense of proportion.
There is another example of political correctness gone mad. I refer to the police stopping trouble-makers - as opposed to `stop and search'.
I accept that in the case of `stop and search', there should be a record kept by the police.
But it is now proposed that the police keep a record of every stop they make - and that anyone stopped by the police should be able to see a record of that paperwork.
Now, it takes about seven minutes to do the paperwork for each stop. For half a dozen stops, that's the best part of an hour. Is that really how we want our police officers to be spending their time? Filling in forms when they could be helping to make our streets safe?
It's a nonsense. And that's why a Conservative Government would not implement that recommendation.
This is the sort of thing that leads to distorted priorities, and wasted time, money and effort. Like health experts spending time and money banning sponge cakes baked by the Women's Institute. In our health service, we should all be rather more worried about the MRSA bug than sponge cakes.
We urgently need to restore a sense of balance.
The balance which will protect children but not to wrap them in cotton wool.
The balance that will let teachers teach, and pupils learn.
The balance which will protect minorities but ensure that the Police can continue to do their job effectively.
The balance that will deliver clean hospitals but allow patients to eat sponge cake.
The balance which recognises that most people are unlikely to be offended by seeing a national flag being displayed during a football tournament.
So why has that sense of balance and of perspective been lost?
First, even good legislation can be applied in the wrong way. Legislation that is meant to help can instead be used by government to interfere where it should not.
The principle underlying the Children Act 1989 - that the child's welfare is paramount - is universally accepted. And the legislation itself has achieved much. But we need to guard against the possibility of even that legislation being applied in perverse ways, ways which produce an imbalance between the rights of children and the legitimate rights of parents.
We need to make sure it doesn't lead to parents being denied vital and important information about their child. Or a child being allowed to make a decision that is not in his or her best interests. Or the State interfering in the family unit in ways which do more harm than good.
I have therefore asked Theresa May, as Shadow Secretary of State for the Family, to conduct a wide-ranging consultation on the Children Act, and how it is actually working in practice.
Centralisation and Big Government
Political correctness has also been used as an excuse to increase centralisation and the power and size of Whitehall. The Government is currently recruiting new officials at the rate of 511 a week.
Political correctness is, in essence, about power. It is someone telling someone else what to do, how to behave, how to speak, how to think.
That is why the politically correct brigade needs bureaucrats who churn out paperwork, telling us what to say, what to do, what not to do.
More instructions, more regulations, more red tape - too often stopping people from exercising their judgment, from using their common sense and from drawing on their experience. Instead, they are tied up in centrally imposed political correctness and bureaucracy that actually stops them from doing what they want to do, and what the public wants them to do.
On day one of a Conservative government, we will freeze civil service recruitment. Fewer bureaucrats will mean fewer regulations. And we will introduce "sunset clauses" to ensure that only regulations that are truly necessary will survive.
Political correctness is also expensive. The growing compensation culture is partly the result of political correctness. It is often a misplaced fear of injury and legal action - referred to last week by David Davis as `the cancer of litigation' - which leads to a cutting back of playground activities, or daisy chains, or pancake day races. It has even led to the removal of hanging baskets.
Even the judges have recognised how the balance has swung the wrong way. Speaking recently, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Phillips, said that "people should have a balanced approach and not expect that if they have an accident someone else should automatically carry the can". As he said: "…if you take it to its end, you stop children playing rugger, or canoeing, or climbing trees". He's right. We don't want that kind of society.
It's important, in my view, to protect our public servants from the culture of compensation. As Lord Phillips pointed out in his interview, the institutions can help themselves. The NHS, for example, could be more open in how it investigates medical mishaps and, where appropriate, could from the outset make an apology. Very often that's what patients want, rather than money - together with an assurance that it won't happen again.
But other measures will be needed to ensure that our public servants are not unduly harmed by litigation, and their career prospects blighted, even when they have done no wrong.
Last week Tim Collins set out a series of measures to protect those in education from the damaging effects of this trend, and to give teachers back control of the classroom.
Experienced, valued and trusted teachers can too often have their careers and reputations ruined on the word of a single child, all too often acting unthinkingly or maliciously, who chooses to allege abuse.
It is time for a comprehensive review of the way in which legal changes, often introduced with the best of motives, have made teaching much more difficult and affected the education of our children in a harmful and detrimental way.
All the consequences of political correctness I have mentioned so far are serious enough.
But sometimes they can be still more profound.
The great danger of political correctness is that it becomes counter-productive: it can provoke ridicule and backlash, and it can sometimes play into the hands of extremists. Good, decent initiatives are undermined by steps that go to far - and then they are tarred with the same brush.
Attacking the St George's flag means that it can all too easily become the emblem of the far right, thuggish minority, who use it to give themselves the veneer of legitimacy.
Meaningless rules and regulations mean that extremists can ridicule all genuine and well-directed efforts to combat discrimination in our society.
So political correctness can also mean that we begin to lose the very values which we want to protect - the values of common sense, decency, the distinction between right and wrong.
As a society, we have begun to be intolerant of things we should tolerate, and tolerant of things we should not tolerate.
We have become illiberal in our desire to curb what was once normal behaviour.
And we have become too liberal when it comes to tolerating and excusing behaviour which undermines society itself.
All around us we see a lack of respect, discipline and decent values - but we just put up with it. We put up with the rowdy teenagers on the bus. We accept that people are afraid to venture out for a meal or a quiet drink in their town centre on a Friday or Saturday night.
We tolerate the intolerable because we are frightened to put our heads above the parapet. And because we do not want to offend the politically correct brigade.
The time has come to remember the rights of the law-abiding majority.
Sometimes there comes a limit to seeing the other person's point of view.
It was the burglar, wounded by Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, who was given leave to use legal aid to sue for compensation.
It was convicted mass murderer Dennis Nilsen who was able to argue that his 'right to information and freedom of expression' entitled him to receive hard-core pornography in prison.
Those last two examples were pursued under the Human Rights Act.
We announced earlier this week a review of the operation of that Act. Decisions are being taken and judgements made in the name of human rights which go far beyond what most people would understand by that term.
Of course everyone should be treated fairly and equally before the law. But a culture which fails to distinguish between right and wrong, in the name of equal `rights' for all, is a distorted culture.
Political correctness is a culture that offends our nation's sense of tolerance, our sense of honesty, our sense of balance.
Whenever there is a conflict between political correctness and common sense, let me tell you where I stand. I stand firmly on the side of common sense.
Common sense, decency, humanity are qualities which the British people have in abundance.
These are the qualities we need to cherish.
Not all the answers to the problems posed by political correctness lie in the hands of politicians.
But there are specific measures that we can and will take to challenge it.
Our review of the Human Rights Act will rein in a piece of legislation that is being roundly abused.
Our consultation on how the Children Act is working in practice will restore the balance of power between parents and bureaucrats.
Our freeze on day one of the recruitment of civil servants will mean that there are fewer bureaucrats to push out regulations.
Our proposals for sunset clauses for many regulations will ensure only those that are clearly necessary will survive.
Our measures to protect teachers and return to them control of the classroom will make a difference.
But of course those specific measures alone can only do so much.
What we need is a change of culture.
We will say, loudly and clearly, to the people of this country, we are on your side.
We will support doctors, teachers, nurses, policemen and the ordinary man and woman on the street.
We will say to them, we agree with you. Enough is enough.
You should be free to lead your lives as you see fit. We will only intervene when the need to do so is clear and necessary.
We will end the culture of regulation, interference and centralisation which is destroying our sense of community.
Once again, government will serve the people. It will no longer be its master.
That theme will permeate the conduct of the next Conservative Government. This is a promise which I make to you today. It is a promise which I will keep. It is a promise on which I shall invite you to hold us to account."