(article published in The Birmingham Post, June 2008)
Last week the equalities minister, Harriet Harman, revealed her plans to make it legal for firms to discriminate in favour of female and ethnic minorities’ job candidates. Although we need to regard everyone as our equal, clearly some are more equal than others. This bizarre line of thinking also applies to the police force.
Last year, for instance, the Commission for Race and Equality found that fourteen out of the fifteen selection/promotion schemes used by the police authorities in England and Wales did not meet the required standard. In other words, they denied opportunities to Black and Asian people when it came to a career in the police force.
All forces were then compelled to re-write their schemes under the Race Relations Amendment Act (2000).
Today like Harriet Hermann, a number of critics would like to see fixed quotas for Black and Asian officers to ensure that there is a good representation of ethnic minority groups especially when it comes to promotion to senior ranks. Organisations will have to by law put forward a certain number of Black and Asian staff for promotion. It’s what many on the left call ‘positive discrimination’.
This comes in the wake of high profile discrimination cases against the police. Only last week Assistant Commissioner, Tarique Ghaffur announced he was going to sue his bosses at the Met for denying him promotion.
At the same time, Harriet Hermann insists that the police must ensure that all candidates – Black, White and Asian – are treated fairly.
Now ‘fairly’ is not the same as ‘equally’. In my opinion ‘equality’ is used rather too loosely in today’s politically correct world. We’re all ‘equal’, we’re told as if it’s a fact that cannot be challenged or disputed.
A few months ago whilst sitting as a magistrate in our local court, we were discussing this very thought – how certain ideas are presented to us if they’re the whole truth like the gospel. I remember a colleague of mine – a wise, elderly magistrate – stating that although we must treat people fairly we don’t have any obligations to treat them as our equals. Fairness is one thing but equality is a different ball game.
In his view, it was clear that people are not equal because we have different skills, cultural values, morality, ethics, skills and personality traits. Surely a skilled person, for instance, is not equal to an unskilled one. An unemployed university educated person with a degree in engineering is not equal to a person who has for no good reason lived on social benefits and has neither a skill nor an education.
But more importantly, what’s right in the eyes of one person might not be so in the eyes of another. It’s all a matter of perspective – about our background and upbringing – about the way we see right and wrong. Therefore, our standpoint cannot be generic or homogeneous whether it’s social or political. We are all creatures of subjectivity and thus we’re not equal.
For instance, some people – perhaps not unlike myself – might find the idea of a carrying weapon to defend oneself nothing but abhorrent. It wouldn’t even cross our minds and yet, there are young people – girls as well as boys – for whom weapons such as blades are part and parcel of everyday life. I’m sorry but they are not equal to us no matter what anyone might say.
In particular, what being a magistrate makes clear – and perhaps this is the case for police officers too – is that we are living in different worlds. Criminal behaviour – which most of us would reject – is common in some quarters of our society, almost as common as fish and chips on a Friday night. Driving a car without a licence, or insurance or an MOT might seem unbelievable to many of us but there is a sizeable, reckless element in our wider community who have no regard for their own safety – let alone other road users. Clearly, we’re not equal. Their standards of decency, respect and good behaviour do not coincide with ours.
A group of young thugs who stab a hard-working family man outside his own home because he complained to them about their rowdy, anti-social behaviour are not in my opinion, his equals. Or a burglar who gets shot whilst carrying out a burglary in a dwelling place of an elderly man is not his equal. Similarly, a psychopath who throws chips at a young couple on a bus and then fatally stabs one of them, is not their equal. And hooded thugs who rob a promising, hard-working a solicitor and stab him to death – all for the sake of a mobile phone and twenty odd quid – are not, I’m sorry, his equals.
It would be a travesty of justice if we thought that a primary school pupil, a young girl who is a part-time carer of her disabled single mother in a wheel-chair, who cooks and cleans for her and looks after her general welfare, is nothing but equal to some of her peers who can’t even boil an egg.
We must not get wrapped up in a politically correct social philosophy of thinking we’re all equal irrespective of sex, gender, race education and training. We are not equal especially as we’re living in a capitalist society that believes in competition, ambition, privilege, power, class and status.
But fairness is very different.
Unlike Harriet Hermann and our left-wing critics, I don’t want people promoted purely on the basis of the colour of their skin – call it ‘positive discrimination’, minority quotas, equality procedures or whatever semantics are in vogue. To me, that’s rather patronising – as if Asians and Blacks are a little more than token staff to appease the CRE. I’m sure Assistant Commissioner, Tarique Ghaffur would agree. Similarly, promotion should not be viewed as an automatic right – it has to be earned.
Now I’m not saying that there isn’t any truth in his case. There might be and he, therefore, he has every right to take his bosses to court that they haven’t treated him fairly. But, honestly, I would like to see the best men and women for the job not purely because they’ve been at the longest. Quite often it seems that political correctness gets in the way of common sense. How many times have I seen diminutive police officers – voluntary and professional – walking about in the streets no more confident or stronger than children in our local primary schools. It does not fill me with confidence to know that when tall, burly dangerous thugs – well armed – are rampaging our cities at least the police authorities are regarding all candidates as equal and giving everyone the opportunity to wear the uniform.
The same trait seems to apply to all walks of life including education, where schools and colleges employ Black and Asian support staff and learning assistants even when they’re English is not quite up to the standard. And in a local college where my friend teaches, there’s a severely dyslexic white member of staff who teaches literacy to students with learning difficulties. The college has to offer this member of staff a personal assistant so that PA can do all the paperwork for him. That, to me, is hideous and bizarre – it’s that clichéd case of political correctness gone mad.
We have to by led by our common sense and a compulsion to exercise fairness but not by a legislative imperative to regard everyone as an equal…