When PC Myth Becomes Government Talking Point

Five Chinese Crackers spots a stinker from Baroness Warsi:

“Well I think there’s a difference between multiculturalism per se, and state multiculturalism, where the state intervenes and says, ‘You will do this, you will do that.'” For example, she offers, “When the state says ‘We’ll have winterfest instead of Christmas, so everyone feels included.’ That’s wrong.”

Eh? Did I miss something? When – and you don’t have to be exact now, a year will do – did the state say we’ll have Winterfest instead of Christmas? (Except for the time when Cromwell’s government banned Christmas, smartypants).

The Guardian article by Decca Aitkenhead is here. Now is the perfect time to link to Oliver Burkeman’s fantastic debunking of the Winterval myth:

Perhaps the most notorious of the anti-Christmas rebrandings is Winterval, in Birmingham, and when you telephone the Birmingham city council press office to ask about it, you are met first of all with a silence that might seasonably be described as frosty. “We get this every year,” a press officer sighs, eventually. “It just depends how many rogue journalists you get in any given year. We tell them it’s bollocks, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference.”

According to an official statement from the council, Winterval – which ran in 1997 and 1998, and never since – was a promotional campaign to drive business into Birmingham’s newly regenerated town centre. It began in early November and finished in January.

Clicking back from the Five Chinese Crackers post, I find that the Exclarotive blog has been logging similar myths.  Anton Vowl spotted another example of the Conservatives propagating the nonsense, this time over health and safety legislation.  Ann Widdecombe cited several examples of PC gone mad during our debate on the issue last year.  I wonder how many had any substance?

One might think that debunking articles, such as those mentioned above, might serve to sink the highly dangerous armada of lies that sails through our society, leaving a hatred of immigrants in its wake.  Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be so.  In the Boston Globe, John Keohane reports on a University of Michigan study that shows that the introduction of new facts may actually cause people to double-down on their strongly held misconceptions.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

This is why we need to discuss much of our politics in terms of narrative.  It sounds pretentious, but the fact is that a single article giving some facts will rarely reverse a political consensus.

Update

Here’s my namesake in the Independent with a similarly fine debunking.

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