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ASK anyone whether they believe in free speech and the answer is almost a reflex reaction.

Of course, they do, it’s part and parcel of living in a ‘democracy’ like Britain!

The problem is the definition of free speech that some of my friends believe in and what I believe in are two very different things.

I was reprimanded this week for writing that political correctness is ‘pathetic’. I was told, in reply, that it’s merely good manners as it respects our beliefs, creed, gender, race etc etc.

And this partial understanding is at the root of what I would term ‘fake’ free speech.

Our politically correct world says you and I can say absolutely anything we want providing it doesn’t offend anyone else!

That leaves me able to comment on the weather – as long as I don’t trample on the climate change hoax – and possibly the price of cheese.

Otherwise if I wish to say anything remotely meaningful, I could be in deep trouble.

On the race issue, I asked a reasonable question. If racial stereotypes are the cause of the objection, is it then against the politically correct code to praise a nation? The answer, remarkably, seemed to be ‘yes’.

This is not free speech, folks. But the exact opposite. Any notion of political correctness necessarily is censoring, not promoting our rights to speak our minds.

The clue is in the word ‘political’. This is a political programme, not party political but very much associated with an agenda.

Political correctness tells us we can think, speak and broadcast whatever we like – but it must correspond with the new mainstream concept of right and wrong.

Therefore it is no longer acceptable, it seems, to believe that gay marriage is anything other than a great idea.  Or rather, currently at least, it’s ok for us to believe but should we dare to express that belief, the consequences could be dire.

So honest debate on this and many other sensitive issues is stifled and, in its place, comes frustration, resentment and outright anger.

You see, very few people believe in political correctness. The  majority have seen through it long ago. They merely go through the motions of attending ridiculous courses at work and saying, or more often, not saying the right things just to ensure they still have a pay packet at the end of the month.

We tut about not being able to take innocent photographs of our children but follow the code because we don’t want to fall foul of school policy.

And now the stressed-out parents of Scotland will be holding back from disciplining their children with a controlled smack because they could be labelled a criminal.

It’s not that most folk are becoming more ‘respectful’, they follow the rules because they are being forced to. And that breeds the sort of society we have today.

For since political correctness was upgraded from the ‘lunatic fringe’ to the mainstream we have become precisely the opposite to kinder and more understanding to each other.

We are constantly embroiled in arguments in which we find it extremely hard to ‘respect’ the opposite point of view. We are undoubtedly becoming a more extreme society as our rights to express what we feel are curtailed almost daily.

Compare this with my definition of free speech. I say it means we should be able to say exactly what we think. No ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’, free means without condition.

So if I think the holocaust didn’t happen (which is not my view!) then fine, that’s my point of view.

We should not, in a free society (and this is most certainly not a free society), be judged or legislated against,  for our opinions.

So what about the very large number of people who will become offended by genuine free speech?

In short, they need to ‘man’, or should that be ‘person’, up! No more, no less.

Stop taking things so personally and argue your point in return.

If we genuinely had free speech, important issues currently buried just below the surface would be more commonly talked about.

People would benefit from knowing they are accepted and valued irrespective of their opinions and not have to hide what they really think.

Currently, however, we are light years away from real free speech and heading very quickly in the opposite direction.

Those of us who baulk at the political programme need to speak out and appeal to those who are unwillingly trapped within it.

There’ll be a cost. Friends, even employers, may fall by the wayside. But anything’s better than settling for a society in which we are told what we can and cannot say in the name of ‘free speech’.