Michael Howard is playing a dangerous game. This week's Conservative party political broadcast was a naked rant against "political correctness". An array of white people - and one token Asian - were shown talking about their fear of crime. Michael Howard then explained - with a pained expression - that the reason for this terror is the "handcuffing" of our police by the forces of political correctness.
Starting next year, extra measures will be put in place by the Labour government to stop the police harassing innocent black people. The reasons are stark and simple. A young black man is still six times more likely to be randomly stopped by the police than a young white guy. Black drivers of smart cars complain they are constantly pulled over for the unofficial offence of "Driving While Black". This police harassment - quite apart from being wrong and racist in itself - actually increases crime, because it makes the black community more reluctant to co-operate with police investigations.
Howard knows this. He knows the new measures - which require the police to log each person they stop and take a quick note of it - were strongly recommended by the public inquiry into Stephen Lawrence's murder as "necessary to tackle institutional racism in the police force". He has decided to play politics with it anyway - and in the most inflammatory way.
The Tory leader has chosen publicly to charge - in a broadcast entirely free of Afro-Carribean victims of crime - that "political correctness gone mad" is feeding lawlessness. It doesn't take an expert to join the dots between his statements: if you stop harassing black men, crime will grow.
Howard likes the charge of "political correctness" so much he has decided to use it as a spear in the general election campaign. This summer, he laid out his approach in a remarkable speech. He said PC was "driving people crazy" and "playing into the hands of extremists". Yet the only evidence for this "cancer" that Howard and his army of full-time researchers could come up with was a handful of trivial anecdotes. You know the drill: a council refusing to hang the St George's flag during a football match, a few prisoners allowed to claim a "right" to hard-core porn, and so on.
Why the lack of examples with real victims? Easy: because the stories always trotted out as evidence of the excesses of PC - the banning of "Baa-Baa Black Sheep" and so on - turn out to be urban myths. Far from being a "left-wing tyranny" and "a thought-crime", political correctness exists far more in the wild imaginations of the right than in everyday life. When PC does impinge on our daily lives - as in the Government's new police proposals - there is a very good reason for it.
But for all the intellectual emptiness of his speech, Howard got the headlines he wanted - "Tory boss savages PC". "Political correctness" has become a generic term used by the right to slap down the extension of equality to minority groups without seeming like monsters. Few people will openly admit they believe it's acceptable for the police to bully black men, or for gay people to be denied equal rights, or for grossly abusive terms to be used about the disabled or women. Instead, they simply sneer at everybody who actually wants to end these abuses.
How do these people imagine words like "nigger", "faggot" and "kike" faded from public discourse? We hardly ever hear them now for one reason: earlier generations of politically correct people fought against them. Minorities - supported by, yes, decent left-wingers - made it clear that they were unacceptable. …