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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 August, 2004, 14:07 GMT 15:07 UK
Tory leader attacks 'PC culture'
Michael Howard
Howard wants common sense, not political correctness
Tory leader Michael Howard has called for a change of culture to counteract the spread of "political correctness" which he says is damaging Britain.

Ordinary people are being "driven crazy" by political correctness which has a "corrosive effect on society", he told an audience at a Stafford hotel.

"We cannot simply dismiss every isolated case of stupidity or zeal or plain barminess," Mr Howard said.

Labour Party chairman Ian McCartney has dismissed the attack as "desperate".

Political correctness is a culture that offends our nation's sense of tolerance, our sense of honesty, our sense of balance
Michael Howard

Mr Howard said such political correctness gave officials an excuse "to meddle and interfere in people's lives".

"It leads to expensive, time consuming and pointless litigation. It plays into the hands of extremists," Mr Howard argued.

But Mr Howard acknowledged that there was a need to "deal head on with the cancer of discrimination".
I find so-called political correctness to be very patronising and mealy-mouthed.
David Hazel, Fareham, UK

"That is why I have supported and will always support sensible measures to combat race, disability and sex discrimination.

"Over the last 40 years or so measures like these have made a real difference to millions of men, women and children in Britain."

'Infected government'

But these measures were not examples of "political correctness" but about "plain common sense, decency, humanity" and were characteristic of a civilised society, he said.

Tory examples of political correctness 'gone mad'
Nursery teachers warned against playing musical chairs
Schools advised to replace sports day with 'problem solving'
Firm told job advert calling for 'friendly person' could be discriminatory
School children told lunchboxes a health and safety risk
West Yorkshire school banned books about pigs lest they offend Muslim people
Women's Institute banned from making cakes for patients because of 'health risk'
Father told he could not take a photo of his son at a public swimming pool without getting other bathers' permission
Hot cross bun taken off school menu because they could offend

As an example of "political correctness gone mad", the Conservatives cite a booklet entitled Towards a Non-violent Society - published by a charity set up in the wake of the murder of Liverpool toddler Jamie Bulger called Forum on Children and Violence.

It was launched by education minister Margaret Hodge in 2000 and argues that games like musical chairs can encourage a violent attitude.

The Tories say this amounted to government backing.

But a spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said it neither funded nor distributed the booklet.

"No ban on the game was ever advocated by government," he added.


The Tories also mention a Sport England scheme which advocated replacing the traditional primary school sports day with a more inclusive event centred around "problem solving exercises".

A government spokesman said: "As Tessa Jowell said yesterday (Wednesday), the government is firmly in favour of competitive sport.

"It teaches teamwork, discipline, self-respect and how to cope with winning and losing. It's also great fun."

As part of his policy solutions, Mr Howard highlighted shadow home secretary David Davis' announcement of a review of the Human Rights Act on Monday.

Mr Davis argued a rights culture was leading to "spurious" legal claims.

Other measures planned by the Tories are:

  • A consultation on the workings of the Children Act to try to restore the balance of power "between parents and bureaucrats"

  • A freeze on civil service recruitment so that there are fewer bureaucrats and fewer regulations

  • Introduce time limits for many regulations, forcing reviews which will allow those which are "clearly necessary" to survive

  • Measures to protect teachers and return to them the control of the classroom.

    Mr Howard said: "Political correctness is a culture that offends our nation's sense of tolerance, our sense of honesty, our sense of balance.

    "Wherever there is a conflict between political correctness and common sense.... 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."

    But Labour's Mr McCartney countered: "This is a desperate speech from an increasingly desperate leader but not even John Prescott could rescue this drowning man.

    "Michael Howard has now fully signed up to the William Hague model of leadership - desperate optimism, lurches to the right and tawdry appeals to the core vote."

    A Tory party spokesman said it had deliberately drawn the definition of "political correctness" very wide and that the party expected a very positive response.

    The BBC's Gillian Hargreaves
    "Michael Howard portrays a world gone mad"

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