Brendan O'Neill
Brendan O'Neill

This is about etiquette, not equality

There are persistent rumours that Prince Harry is not his father’s son. But he is certainly his grandfather’s grandson. Like Prince Philip, the undisputed king of making racially-tinged gaffes, Harry has landed himself in hot water for referring to ethnic minorities in derogatory terms.

Philip, married to the Queen, has insulted the Chinese (“slitty eyed”), Asians (“I thought Eastern women just sit around smoking pipes and eating sweets all day”), Aborigines (“Do you still throw spears at each other?”), and Russians (“The bastards murdered half my family”). And now Harry, third in line to the throne, has been caught on a video shot at his army training school referring to an Asian comrade as a “Paki” and telling another soldier with a teatowel on his head that he looks like a “raghead”.

It’s caused a storm of controversy. The Ministry of Defence has launched an internal inquiry, while the Equality and Human Rights Commission (formerly the Commission for Racial Equality) has denounced the prince’s comments as “unacceptable”. Commentators say the incident shows that our possible future king is a man of “no great intellectual acuity”.

That last bit is obviously true. However, don’t let the hounding of Harry by Britain’s race quangos, army bigwigs and commentariat fool you into thinking that Britain has finally transformed into an enlightened, equality-loving nation in which even a prince will be publicly taken to task for using racist language.

Rather, the Harry incident shows that the old elite and its outdated manners (as personified by the Royal Family) has been well and truly usurped by a new elite and its new-fangled manners (as personified by quangos issuing guidelines on what words we may and may not use these days). This is about etiquette, not equality; it is about policing people’s behaviour rather than challenging racial injustice. It confirms the dominion over British society of a new caste of language police, who wouldn’t know what true equality was if it knocked on their front doors.

In the past, Britain was ruled by the stifling politics of “know your place”. The existence of the Royal Family itself – to whom we were expected to bow or curtsy, or to stand tall and proud whenever we heard the godawful strains of “God Save the Queen” – reinforced what Prince Charles recently referred to as the “natural order of things”: the rule of the blue-blooded over the lower orders. The withering away of this traditionalist tyranny over the past 20 years has not led to a new era of openness and liberation, however. Instead, a new sniffy elite has crawled into the hole left by the death of respect for the old elite.

The new brigade as at least many rules and regulations about how we should speak and behave as the old snobs did. Where once there were strict codes about how we should address the Queen, today quangos issue guidelines on how we should address each other: what words we may use when talking about or talking to ethnic minorities. And anyone, like Harry, who breaks the rules will be humiliated in the modern equivalent of the public stocks: the media. In the past, we were expected to bow and scrape before the Queen and her establishment; today we are expected to bow and scrape before a PC elite.

That the hounding of Harry is more about etiquette than equality is clear from the fact that today’s new PC guidelines on how we should address other people coexist perfectly well with the continuing denial by the state of other people’s rights. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is forever telling off politicians and journalists for using “inflammatory language” to “whip up hostility towards immigrants” – yet it says little, if anything, about the British state’s stringent border controls or its penchant for arresting, imprisoning and deporting “illegal immigrants”.

Government officials themselves, the authors of repressive asylum legislation, warn the rest of us against using “inflammatory” language when talking about immigration. A few years ago, then Home Secretary Jack Straw said the use of words like “bogus” and “flood” in the debate about migrants – as in “bogus asylum seekers” or “flood of immigrants” – was offensive. This was in the same month that he used Britain’s Asylum and Immigration Act to deport 3,000 Kosovan refugees back to where they came from.

In 2007, the leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, put pressure on one of his MPs to stand down after he wrote in a newspaper column that Enoch Powell, the old racist Tory who made the infamous “rivers of blood” speech, “had a point” about immigration. It was in the same week that Cameron himself said immigration into Britain had to be cut “substantially” because it was threatening “social cohesion”.

The coexistence of the new PC regime of language-policing with continuing state brutality is perfectly summed up in the Harry affair. Last year, Harry was celebrated and cheered by British journalists when it was revealed that he was fighting on the frontline in Afghanistan. Now he is mocked for using the anti-Muslim term “raghead”. So in modern, oh-so-enlightened Britain, it’s okay to go off and shoot foreigners, just so long as you don’t offend them. You can throw hand grenades at strange Muslims overseas, but don’t mention the word “raghead” while you do it! It all rather sums up the empty, soulless tyranny of political correctness.

The hounding of Harry reveals, not that Britain has embraced equality and rejected colonialism, but simply that it is ruled by a new elite – an elite whose petty rules, etiquette, hypocrisy and unquestioning attitude towards anti-migrant legislation and foreign wars make it easily a match for the tiara-wearing snobs of yesteryear.