While Labour abandoned the idea of the state as all-virtuous in the economic sphere (…) some of its leading figures have held firm to the view that it is possible through the enforcement power of the state to improve society’s moral character. What constitutes that “better character” will also be decided by the state, of course, although it is never very clear from what its leaders’ superior moral wisdom derives, other than the very Judeao-Christian tradition whose influence they instinctively wish to relegate.
From The Sunday Times
February 7, 2010
Look out – Harriet Harman is on a crazy crusade
It does not take much to stir the English into a spasm of anti-Catholicism. Front-page stories declaring that Pope Benedict XVI had called on his flock to oppose the government’s Equality Bill were enough to stir 15,000 people to add their signatures to the National Secular Society’s petition opposing the pontiff’s forthcoming state visit to this country.
Even allowing for the centuries-old suspicion that the “left footers” represent some subversive papal army loyal to Rome rather than to the crown, this has been a wilful misinterpretation, not least on the part of the media. The papal address to the Catholic bishops of England and Wales — the cause of the fury — did not once refer to the Equality Bill (which inter alia sought to tighten the rules governing religious organisations’ exemptions from anti-discrimination law). The relevant passage states: “Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society. Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs.” And that’s it.
It seems most obviously to have been a reference to laws already passed, notably those that did not exempt Catholic adoption agencies from the “anti-discrimination” requirement to accept applications from homosexual couples — as a result of which many such agencies have closed rather than face prosecution. There is, it is true, a continuous underlying conflict here: that between the demands of faith and those of secular authority, most vividly expressed in Matthew 22.21 (“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”).
While Labour abandoned the idea of the state as all-virtuous in the economic sphere — it privatised businesses that even Margaret Thatcher balked at selling off — some of its leading figures have held firm to the view that it is possible through the enforcement power of the state to improve society’s moral character. What constitutes that “better character” will also be decided by the state, of course, although it is never very clear from what its leaders’ superior moral wisdom derives, other than the very Judeao-Christian tradition whose influence they instinctively wish to relegate.
While Pope Benedict never mentioned the Equality Bill, or even Harriet Harman, it is clear that the deputy leader of the Labour party is one of the few revolutionary idealists left on the government front benches. She still believes, like a St Paul’s girls’ school Robespierre, that the state will set us free from the tyranny of individual choice and the prejudices of faith and family. Her pet project, a bill that attempts to enforce “equality” via a legally binding so-called “socio-economic duty”, is now heading for the statute book.
To read the full text of “The Equality Bill and other action to make equality a reality”, as distributed by something called the Government Equalities Office, is to enter the world according to Harriet. It all seems sweetly reasonable — until you start to think. Its prime example of what “the equality duty could mean” is the following: “In respect of age, a local council putting extra park benches in local parks so older people can enjoy public spaces as well as younger people.” One wonders what possessed those municipal authorities over the centuries to put benches in their parks. Clearly they had not been inspired by Harman’s Equality Bill to think of the needs of their elderly. Was it possible they were able to have such thoughts quite independently of government edicts?
Her document goes on to say that the Equality Bill’s “new positive action measures could mean: the board of a bank that is 100% male … choosing a woman will help to address the gender imbalance at the top, making the management more representative of its customer base, which is 50% female”. Is it possible that such a bank is aware that its customer base is 50% female and does not need to be informed of that fact by the Government Equalities Office? Is it also possible that such a commercial organisation will do whatever it can not to discriminate against female customers, because it actually does not like to lose business? The condescension of this document is astounding, even by the debased standards of such government screeds.
The next paragraph seeks to reassure us that “positive action is not about banning certain groups” — Etonians? — “from certain jobs. It is about allowing employers to increase diversity if they want their workforce to better reflect the local community or customer base”. Oh, it’s just about allowing us to do what we want, is it? So why legislate?
There is a still more bizarre document put out by the Government Equalities Office: this one is called “The Equality Bill: impact assessment (third version)”. I have in front of me all 233 pages. It tells us that the cost of implementing Harman’s measure, in its first year, will be “between £270.4m and £310.8m”. It admits that part of this vast cost of the Equality Bill might be “additional tribunal/court cases”. No, really?
The document concedes that up to £225m of those additional costs will be borne by “1,174,945 small and medium-sized enterprises”. That’s even before you begin to work out the cost to the taxpayer directly, as all the myriad public bodies created by new Labour get their teeth into the business of enforcing the “socio-economic duty”. The document has an interminable list of the organisations that are ready to do battle against the forces of inequality, not to mention the existing acronymic strategies ready to be inflated still further (“sustainable community strategy (SCS), local area agreements (LAA), local development framework (LDF)”), and so on ad infinitum.
Yet despite all this, the impact assessment insists that the measure will save money. It asserts that the Equality Bill will save the country the sum of “£537,958,543”. How is this enormous and yet precise sum arrived at? Let the Government Equalities Office explain: “This is a benefit to society in general. This concept presumes that a more equitable distribution of resources will raise economic welfare since additional consumption by poor individuals is valued more highly than it is by wealthy individuals.”
So on one side of the balance sheet we have real money — the costs to business and the taxpayer — and on the other side we have psychic money, the financial value that Harman’s advisers have arbitrarily decided to attribute to a more equal distribution of income. No maths teacher used to telling pupils not to add apples and pears would have encountered such a monstrosity.
Besides, what makes the Government Equalities Office believe that this will be the effect of its legislation, however calculated? Last week the government’s own national equality panel (it exists) admitted that despite new Labour’s intense social engineering over the past 13 years, inequalities have increased. It also revealed some fascinating discrepancies in the average wealth of various religious/ ethnic groups. The average Sikh family is richer than the average Christian family (and the average Jewish family is richer than either). Is this the outcome of state support for the Sikh way of life? Is it because Jews have never faced discrimination? Or is because nothing can stop the rise of a social group or family if it has an appetite for hard work?
Alternatively we are asked to believe Harman’s psychic numbers, supposedly the mathematical proof that her legislation, of itself, will make Britain a better society. Whatever you think of the man in the Vatican, he has said nothing as crazy as that.