Picture credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty
Artillery Row

The problem with politeness

The British aversion to seeming rude exposes us to ideological scolds

We British pride ourselves on our politeness. When the tedious conversation about British values rears its head, it’s one of the few things people can agree on. Not for nothing did Orwell remark that “the gentleness of the English civilisation is perhaps its most marked characteristic.” It is how we view ourselves, and are viewed the world over.

But if it is obvious to us as a strength, it is obvious to many others that it can, too, be a weakness, especially in the face of the brazen, the belligerent and the bonkers. Those are words more likely to be associated with our friends across the pond, but it is becoming clear that their ideas — and with it, tendencies — are taking root here thanks to our shared language, and the unpreparedness of the polite Brits to fight fire with fire. 

America has gone through enormous upheaval coming to terms with the racial elements of its troubled past, whilst also making the idea of its cultural “melting pot” as palatable as it can be made. But the US exists upstream of the UK, and now, everywhere you look, activists and chancers are putting pressure on as many facets of British life as they can, safe in the knowledge that the affable people of this country will put up with extraordinary things in the name of appearing polite. 

Just last week, that most British and placid of pastimes, cricket, came under fire, after cricketer Azeem Rafiq criticised the game’s drinking culture for “alienating Muslims.” The inference, as ever, is that there is something fundamentally wicked about a cornerstone of British life that is incompatible with the new culture of “tolerance,” which when taken to its logical conclusion means kiboshing everything that made this island nation good in the first place in order to sate those who think their ways are better.

Perhaps nothing typifies this cultural assault more perfectly than the concept of the microaggression — the idea that through often unconscious behaviour one can be “perpetuating a stereotype which reinforces discrimination.”

The concept is incredibly subjective — one can never be too sure whether, through a raised octave here, or a metaphor there, they are guilty, until directly confronted about it. Defensive manoeuvres can themselves also be considered offences. 

accepting the torment, and failing to stand up to the chancers, only invites more of it

In the face of the hectoring accusation of something the average person has little to no idea about, many British people seek to avoid further accusations of being a revolting bigot by accepting the charge at face value. We are not the descendants of frontiersmen, or citizens of a country founded on liberty. We aren’t all up to debate the libs. We just want to be left alone. But accepting the torment, and failing to stand up to the chancers, only invites more of it. British culture is inherently vulnerable to this invasive ideology.

The more we accept it, the more ridiculous the accusations become. One of the worst examples was York Hospital being forced to apologise for a sign in its library asking people not to bring in foods that were “very smelly.” It prompted immediate outrage with some, claiming this was discrimination against South Asians as their food is, well, smelly. There was no acceptance that this could equally apply to boiled fish, pickles or particularly ripe cheese. No sense either that this showed the perma-outraged were well aware of the inconvenience this particular cuisine might be causing. No, it’s everyone else who is wrong. The smelly food in the hospital must be tolerated, and if not, you’re a bigot.

As ever with the more deranged politically correct trends, our universities are up to their necks in it. Earlier this year, it was reported that top British universities are issuing guidance and training courses to eliminate microaggressions — including correcting that most outrageous of beliefs, that the most qualified candidate for a job opening should get the job.

Being the next logical step for the politically-motivated student, the civil service, too, has become a hotbed of policing behaviours (all except actual criminality). Civil servants have been taught that “rolling their eyes” or “looking at mobile phones” can be evidence of sexual and racial discrimination, with workers being encouraged to spot microaggressions that may show hostility to women or minorities. 

To make matters worse, the government indulges this behaviour, with over £160,000 being spent since 2021 hiring consultants to train staff to notice and “call out” such behaviours.

A cohesive society cannot tolerate those who look to subvert its cohesion to the benefit of their special interest. And as much as Brits abhor rudeness, there is nothing ruder than people playing on your good nature to browbeat you into submission. Society can only regress when the majority allow themselves to be taken for fools so as not to appear bolshy. It is high time that Brits recognised that their culture is, in fact, worth fighting for — and that, from time to time, that may involve shelving the politeness to tell the scolds where to put their microaggressions.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover