A few years ago it seemed the UK was well on the way to becoming a country where difference was celebrated (rather than tolerated).
If I think back to Summer 2012 posters for the Paralympics proclaimed disabled people as ‘superhumans,’ Mo Farah, a muslim who came to the UK as a child refugee, spoke movingly about how he is British.
A few months later the Equal Marriage Act was passed.
Today, the UK feels a very different place.
Hate crime is on the rise;
Poverty among the disabled has increased;
Homelessness has risen by a shocking 168%;
Brexit has caused a division that does not appear easy to mend …
I could go on
But, in summary this country feels a much less kind place to be than it did just a few years ago.
A bizarre and frankly quite nasty culture has developed, masquerading as free speech in which the belittling of others is celebrated and a good way to get attention.
I could discuss a number of commentators continually wheeled out by the mainstream media to discuss topics they have no knowledge or expertise in purely because they will say something nasty – think former reality show contestant Katie Hopkins or Milo Yiannopoulos.
But the best example of this is agitator-in-chief, Boris Johnson.
Last week, the former Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London wrote an article in which he said Burqas made the women who wore them look like ‘bank robbers’ and ‘postboxes.’
Supporters of Johnson claim that as the article was arguing against a burqa ban his other comments are acceptable. But if Johnson wanted to write in defence of women to dress however they damn well like then he should have done just that.
But anyone who has had the misfortune to follow Johnson’s career knows he was not interested in the rights and wrongs of symbols of religion or dress choices but is only interested in the headlines he can generate.
He wrote those words in the full knowledge they would bring him what he craves most: attention.
He might play the bumbling idiot, but he knows exactly what he is doing, playing into the hands of dangerous people who hold deep seated hatred to anyone who is different to them.
He knew that his words would serve to legitimise the vile beliefs of far right groups who share them and that inevitably this would lead to an increase into the hostility felt by those wearing burqas and (as idiots often are unable to distinguish between them) over minority groups.
Now some may argue that women wearing burqas are oppressed. Let us just, for a second, assume that to be true (and I’m not for a second suggesting it is).
In what way would calling people ‘bank robbers’ help empower them to fight back?
How would being compared to an inanimate object like a postbox make a person feel worthy enough to seek help?
It wouldn’t; more likely it will lead to further oppression, and of course, Johnson knew that too.
Boris Johnson is a man, who specialises in causing offence for offences sake.
For example in 2004, in similar fashion to his current grab for the headlines he wrote an article in which he accused people from Liverpool of ‘wallowing in victim status’ and referring to the ‘more than 50 fans who died’ as ‘having fought their way into the ground’ at Hillsborough.
How crass to make such a claim without even having the decency to google the number of people who died before writing such rubbish, although I struggle to believe the number 96 is not known to him as it is to everyone else.
Like the burqa column, he wrote this knowing it would cause upset to people who had already suffered terribly, but carried on, knowing it would get him attention.
Is a man like this really fit to be a politician?
All of this feeds into a culture of nastiness. All of us are familiar with the phrase ‘political correctness.’ What does this actually mean?
As far as I can see it is a derogatory phrase rolled out for anyone wishing to act to make life easier for anyone from a minority group. Look at where those whose who use the phrase ‘political correctness’ and its bed fellow ‘political correctness gone mad.’
In my experience they never have a serious argument as to why whatever they deem ‘politically correct’ is wrong, just a desire to stop it, and to continue with their bigotry against one group or another.
I’m not arguing for a curtailing of free speech at all, I’m saying we need to stop giving a platform to people merely because they have something offensive to say, which is not based on fact when we know it legitimises the hatred others act upon.
We need to stop a culture where the best way for public figures to gain a platform is to say something nasty – let us not forget the hundreds of columns written by other politicians on any number of issues, which are well researched and are on very important matters – none generate the coverage of a column with something nasty in it.
Hatred breeds hatred. We need to stop celebrating those who spread it.