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Artillery Row

The ‘equalities’ agenda has backfired

Luther King Jr’s dream of a colour-free world is being thwarted by professional anti-racists

“I have a dream,” declared Martin Luther King on August 28, 1963, “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”

That inspirational cry for justice – for a colour blind society of individual opportunity and responsibility – has been betrayed. Those thwarting that dream are not some phantom phalanx of white supremacists occupying the commanding heights of British public life this last half century. Rather, look to the professional anti-racists in the equalities industry who have been firmly in charge of almost every institution in this country for just about the entire working lifetime of anyone. Their racial essentialism is the public doctrine of this country and has been for some long time now. The state of modern British society, of which they complain so bitterly, is very much on them.

Outfits such as Black Lives Matter have been dedicated to division, discrimination, and separatism

This bitter irony will not have escaped the notice of the more assiduous followers of current affairs. Outfits such as “Black Lives Matter” have not been championing cohesion, harmony, and equal treatment. They have been dedicated to division, discrimination, and separatism. 

An open apartheid system was established in the “autonomous zone” of Seattle where “anti-racists” established a segregated area for black people. Here in the UK we have seen ethnic minorities being targeted for abuse for exercising dissentient thought. As Kemi Badenoch, the Treasury and Equalities Minister, said: ‘Sadly, some are willing to casually dismiss the contribution of people who don’t conform to their expectation of how ethnic minorities should think and behave. This, in itself, is racist.’

This is not an accident. BLM is a revolutionary group – with the usual demands about overthrowing capitalism, defunding the police, generally smashing the system, and so on. From their perspective generating a race war makes perfect sense. They will be delighted if white people are antagonised and start unfurling “white lives matter” banners. 

Enoch Powell gave a speech in 1968 quoting a constituent warning that the “black man will have the whip hand over the white man”. Fair-minded people would have to say that in the half century that followed, Powell’s lurid warnings of conflict have been proved wrong. We have remained an island of great tolerance. But police officers getting down on their knees to atone for their collective guilt in being white will not help race relations. Provoking thoughts that, “maybe Enoch was right after all,” is, of course, exactly what many BLM militants hope white people will think. 

The task before us

What should the Government’s response be? It should pass a Non-Discrimination Act ensuring the public sector follows the principle of true equality. That doctrine genuinely is and should be colour blind. We should not “positively” discriminate based on colour, or on sex or sexuality: this discrimination is exactly the evil our credo is meant to be fighting. The government ought to be determined to make King’s dream the reality. The people who fight are more than willing to use legislation and the administrative state to achieve their ends: they need to be headed off at the pass while there is still a government in office willing to try.

Such has been the extent of the mutation of equalities law in recent decades that this change would be dramatic. For example, in the last week it was reported that the BBC was to spend £100m on “diverse and inclusive content”. The announcement followed June Sarpong’s appointment last year as the BBC’s director of creative diversity, as the Corporation pledged that “50% of on-air roles will go to women by 2020, with targets of 15% for black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups [BAME], 8% for disabled people, and 8% for LGBT staff.” Under the Non-Discrimination Act that spending and those targets would be illegal. 

Graham Stewart recently reported that the Department for International Development (DfID) carried on its staff intranet a message from a deputy director denouncing “white privilege”, the “white status quo” and demanding we “create safer spaces and opportunities for others”. She would be entitled to her personal views. But she would not be able to promote such offensive nonsense in an official capacity, nor use public-funded resources to do so. 

When I became a councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham in 2006 I proposed that we should treat people on merit and regard their colour as irrelevant – and so cut back to a minimum all the box-ticking, form filling, creepy ethnic monitoring, and the legion of staff required to undertake all this. At one of the first presentations I went to, the Regeneration Director talked about the Council’s programme to ‘help black and ethnic minorities into employment.’ The justification was that unemployment was disproportionately high among this – intrinsically artificial – category. But my point was that any help to unemployed people should be provided on an equal basis – that the ethnicity of an unemployed person is irrelevant and assistance should be purely determined by their individual need. They are people, they are not categories.

Later on, the owner of a council flat asked why we had sent him a form asking about his religion and sexuality after servicing his gas boiler. Why were such questions relevant? What use would we make of the data we were gathering? I was unable to obtain convincing answers. There was confusion about the legislative requirements and the “guidance” for “best practice” from assorted meddling Quangos. 

A similar query came from someone who asked the planning department for permission for a loft extension. He was sent a form and asked to tick a box for heterosexual, gay/lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, or “Other – please state”. He said: “I cannot think what that ‘other’ could be, unless it were so perverse that it would justify putting someone behind bars. And who on earth would voluntarily admit to such proclivities on a planning application?” 

It would follow that a “colour blind” law would prohibit any part of the public sector (or any organisation funded by the public sector) asking anyone questions about their ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. Questions as to their sex should only take place where there is some genuine practical reason. 

In my experience as a councillor, all these intrusive and impertinent queries were particularly tiresome for minorities, who rightly find categories such as BAME and LGBT misleading and insulting. India Knight writes,

‘I am half-Belgian and half-Pakistani. What does that make me? More than an abbreviation, thank you. The rudeness of it! We are all individual people with ancestry that is specific and meaningful to us, a source of pride and identity.’ 

Why aren’t people being judged by their own actions, not according to arbitrary criteria of interest to collectivists?

What’s happened this last decade?

One could imagine an ever-increasing level of madness when Harriet Harman was in charge. But we have not had a Labour Government for over ten years. Why are the rights of the individual not being stood up for? Why aren’t people being judged by their own actions, not according to arbitrary criteria of interest to collectivists (and of very direct self-interest to the people provided with state positions invigilating these very conceptually dubious categories)? Instead, it has got worse. David Cameron might have privately had some doubts but felt it wasn’t worth tarnishing his “progressive” credentials by doing anything about it.

Clare Foges, Cameron’s sometime speech writer, writes in retirement from public service:

‘Every time someone sanctimoniously demands that a woman must be destined for a job because she is a woman — whether a BBC executive decreeing a woman must appear on every comedy panel show, or a commentator demanding a woman president in the White House — they perpetuate the idea that what matters is your gender identity rather than your individual talents. Isn’t this what we have been railing against for aeons?’

Fine sentiments for a private sector newspaper column, but not ones she ever managed to persuade her old boss to express. On the contrary, David Cameron as Prime Minister agreed to set a new aspiration that 50 per cent of all new appointments to public boards will be whatever we currently mean by female. 

Theresa May, an obvious beneficiary at each step in her political promotion of the cry, ‘but there needs to be a woman!’ in the shadow or actual cabinet, probably sincerely believed in all this. Her resignation speech from the steps of Downing Street listing her proud achievements fell back on reference to the Race Disparity Audit and “gender pay reporting”, 

Earlier we had Labour’s 2010 Equality Act – with its privileged treatment for certain castes, or as the language of the statue more decorously puts it, “protected groups”. Before that the 2006 Equality Act set up a new Equality and Human Rights Commission and established a public sector “duty” to act against unequal outcomes. The presumption is that the only explanation for an unequal outcome is that discrimination has taken place. Bad things only happen because bad people do them. We don’t need to show how, why or when, the figures speak for themselves without need for explanation or detail, or even any basic assessment of whether the ‘remedies’ work.

Of course, it’s funny how numbers work. The penal system, for example, displays a quite extraordinary bias against (the people we currently categorise as being) men. At present, there are 76,449 male inmates in our prisons – but a mere 3,264 females. You laugh or sneer to taste, but what did you do last year when Dany Cotton, the then head of the London Fire Brigade, said she wished 50 per cent of those putting out fires in the capital would be women because it would reflect modern London? Nod appreciatively? Duly report it with a straight face? 

The present dispensation entails frantic quantities of doublespeak in the law, an area sufficiently arcane that adding intricacy is very seldom a good or happy thing. Talk of “positive action” rather than “positive discrimination”, of “targets” rather than “quotas” abounds. Mike O’Brien, the Home Office Minister in the Labour Government, defended the introduction of ‘targets’ for ethnic minority recruitment into the police force. “Quotas are illegal,” he said. “Targets are about fairness, rewarding talent and putting an end to glass ceilings. Managers will have to deliver their targets.” First we debase our words, then we debase our institutions. Talk seldom fixes problems but it all too readily creates them.

Inevitably the very discrimination we all denounce is exactly what the modern age and the contemporary public sector requires. The ever-expanding list of duties to report on progress has been matched by a lengthening list of the data that must be gathered and Equalities Impact Assessments which must be undertaken. As the sociologist Peter Saunders wrote in his excellent Civitas paper, The Rise of the Equalities Industry: ‘This means that it is not unfair to discriminate against somebody provided you are helping someone else who belongs to a group which the government favours.’ Once such privileging would have been seen as abhorrent and the last thing public policy would set out to do. Now it is such a commonplace that we struggle to even notice it being done.

But it’s not all hypocrisy and self-delusion. In many places it’s now open and honest official malevolence. The Association of Chief Police Officers righteously avows,

“‘Colour-blind’ policing means policing that purports to treat everyone in the same way. Such an approach is flawed and unjust … This is not enough. In a passively non-racist environment, racists can still thrive, discriminatory organisational structures and practices can still persist, and racism in the broader community can go largely unchallenged.”

Civitas’s Peter Saunders reflected on this species of moral idiocy: ‘We have, in other words, now reached a point where police officers are being instructed by those in command to treat ethnic minorities differently from whites. And this is being done in the name of “equality”.’

Another way that the “equalities” agenda has harmed the interests of those it is supposed to help is for children in care. Social workers now seek not a willing home but an “ethnic match”. The upshot is that many black children are stuck in the care system, if only white prospective adopters are available. Thus those children are denied a permanent loving family and their life prospects are greatly harmed thereby. A colour-blind law would make such discriminatory behaviour by the police and social workers illegal. 

Is this practical politics?

Could it be done? It would certainly break the consensus. One example would give a perspective on the parameters in which current policy operates. In 2011, David Cameron attacked Oxford University saying it was “disgraceful” it admitted so few black students. The university responded with statistics that it had 12,671 white students, 1,477 Asian students, 1,098 Chinese, 838 mixed-race, 254 ‘other ethnicity’ and 253 describing themselves as ‘black’. If the Chinese and Indians are ‘over-represented’, as they do well at A-level grades, should they be turned down to make space for white children with lower grades? With a colour-blind law this pernicious exchange would not even be possible. Oxford would be prohibited from even asking their students such questions. 

Would such a change be impossible? There is an analogy with Brexit in a couple of respects. The quantity of existing legislation that would be changed would be immense – though I’m assured that it could be done in a single Act of Parliament. Initially only a handful of MPs would be expected to back such a demand openly. Just as only a handful of them backed Better Off Out when it was launched in 2006. However, there would be significant support in terms of public opinion, and not just among Conservatives. 

Also, the ever-greater excesses of the equalities industry increases the tendency for politically moderate people to conclude it has gone visibly too far – as took place with the empire building of the EU. 

Actors Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, 1967. (Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images)

In the film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Dr. John Prentice, played by Sidney Poitier, a black man is cautioned by his father against marrying a white woman. John tells his father: “You think of yourself as a coloured man. I think of myself as a man.” That encapsulates the issue we face if we believe in what a Non-Discrimination Act should attempt to do. It’s a mid-century goal which rejects wholesale the very wrong turn we have taken since.

A clean decisive break is needed. Just lifting requirements on the public sector is not enough. All the equalities paraphernalia must be specifically outlawed at the conceptual level: the goal itself is wrong, and stopping the innumerable additional wrongs done pursuing it requires that being said up front and in law. It is unlikely that the cause of outlawing public discrimination will have a better chance any time soon than this government with its majority in this parliament. They are unlikely to act without pressure being applied to them: you can’t speak up soon enough or loud enough.

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