IT’S been obvious for some time now that identity politics is a barely disguised war on white men. Too many white men in British public life and the workplace is the common complaint – too ‘male and pale’, to use the offensive yet socially acceptable phrase. It’s a ridiculous idea from any objective point of view, of course: British workplaces are full of white men because the native British have fair skin – it’s a bit like complaining there are too many Indian men in India – and men tend to be the main breadwinners. But why let straightforward facts get in the way of a good victim narrative?
Simon Mayo is the latest high-profile scalp in this increasingly brutal war. In 2016 the BBC adopted some of the most ridiculous diversity targets yet seen – for example 8 per cent of on-air or on-screen roles must be filled by LGBT individuals despite only 2 per cent of Britons identifying as such – and in due course Mayo was forced into co-presenting his popular Radio 2 show with a woman to increase diversity. When it didn’t work out it was clear it was him who had to go.
The Beeb aims to hit 50 per cent female on-screen and on-air roles by 2020. Half is a common target for gender diversity, of course. But common or not, it fails to take into account that women on average work significantly fewer hours than men, with even women in full time employment working an average of five hours less each week than full-time male workers. Not allowing for such differences, as well as other differing patterns of choice of work between men and women, means organisations will consistently struggle to hit their diversity targets, and in the process will systematically treat men unfairly and over-promote many women.
We also heard this week that Arts Council England, which ties the grants it awards to diversity targets, is to put more pressure on grant recipients to obtain diversity data from employees, especially in relation to sexuality, which many employees are reticent to disclose. This reticence is hardly surprising. Why would a straight man these days choose to reveal his sexual orientation to his employer, knowing full well the only reason they want to know is to disadvantage him in recruitment and promotion?
You might be wondering how all this identitarian social engineering can be legal. Isn’t it unlawful to discriminate in hiring practices and other areas? The answer is yes and no. The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination on the basis of nine ‘protected characteristics’ – sexual orientation, race, religion, sex, age, disability, pregnancy, gender reassignment and marriage – and that includes ‘positive’ discrimination. The Act also bans diversity quotas. However, there is a deliberate loophole. Sections 158 and 159 of the Act authorise what it calls ‘positive action’ – a broad category covering most forms of action intended to encourage participation by supposedly disadvantaged or under-represented groups in employment or other activities. This includes diversity targets, which is how organisations get around the ban on quotas – an Orwellian sleight of hand.
Here’s a sample from Section 158: ‘If a person reasonably thinks that participation in an activity by persons who share a protected characteristic is disproportionately low,’ they may use ‘proportionate means of achieving the aim of enabling or encouraging persons who share the protected characteristic to participate in that activity.’
Note that ‘disproportionately low’ is not defined anywhere, which is why the BBC can get away with its ridiculous target of 8 per cent for LGBT people.
The Equality Act is the legal underpinning of identity politics in the UK. On the first anniversary of the Act in 2011 a lawyer, Karon Monaghan, writing in the Guardian, was concerned that the coalition government would ‘repeal the Act’s most effective provisions once their impact begins to hurt’. She needn’t have worried. Like many people at the time, she was mistaking the Conservative Party for an actually conservative party – not an error anyone would make now. The Tories have shown themselves no less enthusiastic cheerleaders for the ‘progressive’ agenda enshrined in the Act than the Left-wing government which passed it.
A true conservative government, on the other hand, would make a priority of repealing the whole thing and replacing it with something that doesn’t mention any of the divisive ‘protected characteristics’, and instead enshrines the basic duty of justice to treat people equally in the absence of any relevant reason to treat them differently. That would rip the heart out of the entire diversity and equality edifice. Even by itself, a repeal of sections 158 and 159 would at a stroke pull the rug from under all positive action initiatives and open them up to litigation on grounds of discrimination. Just imagine: no more diversity targets and strategies, no more ‘male, pale and stale’ jibes, just plain and simple fairness based on merit.
Some kind people from the Libertarian Party have even drafted the Bill for us.
So what are conservatives waiting for? Repealing the Equality Act, or at least Sections 158 and 159, ought to be a high priority for conservatives serious about ending the scourge of identity politics in our country, joining forces with libertarians as necessary to see it done. It would, at the very least, be a first step back to national sanity.