He cited as examples a predictable litany of nonsensical non–stories: a magistrate refusing to allow a publican extra time because "St George's day is not a special occasion"; a father chasing vandals with a rolling pin charged with carrying an offensive weapon; schoolchildren forbidden to make daisy chains.

No one would argue with the fact that these decisions smack of the barmy. But why does Michael Howard assume that they are the result of 'political correctness' which, he claims, "has a corrosive effect on our society"?

Indeed, he makes no effort to define political correctness except to tell us what he definitely does not think it is: "I have supported and will always support sensible measures to combat race, disability and sex discrimination. . . But such measures do not constitute political correctness. They are, in fact, about plain common sense, decency, humanity."

Funny, that. These are exactly the values which are held dear by those, usually progressive and usually with strong views on human rights, decency and tolerance, who are normally accused of political correctness. So really it's not so surprising to find Howard trying to cash in.

For years, right–wing moralists like Melanie Phillips have gone hunting for examples of the ways in which harmless individuals have been persecuted by the forces of this dark ideology. There have of course been occasional instances where a determination not to give offence has produced silly terminology, absurd nomenclature and even, in some cases, downright injustices.

But most of the well–known examples of political correctness, such as the news that the New Statesman was about to become the New Statesperson, are rather like those 'rulings from Brussels' about straight bananas; they owe more to the writers' febrile imaginations than to the real world.

Political correctness is a shibboleth, a convenient catch–all term with which progressive policies can be tainted by association with absurd anecdotes.

So, thank you Mr Howard for your edifying intervention. And goodnight.