Saturday, 29 September 2007

Trevor Phillips talks sense - again

The Heresiarch likes Trevor Phillips. A career which has seen him progress seamlessly through the cursus honorum of the right-on establishment - presidency of the NUS, the BBC, the Blairite Labour party, chairmanship of the CRE - ought to have stamped him indelibly with the politically-correct evasions of the professionally cautious quangocrat. Yet from his lofty eminence, now become higher still as he takes the helm of the new all-encompassing new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, Phillips has not been afraid to question prevailing orthodoxies about multi-culturalism and other fashionable nonsense. Some, like the Fundamentalists' friend Ken Livingstone, accuse him of posturing and (absurdly) of being a closet supporter of the BNP. The reality, though, is that he's a rare (probably unique) example of someone who has made it through the brain-destroying sewage system of modern interest-group politics with all his faculties intact. And now he's in a position actually to do something.

In today's Daily Telegraph, for example, he hits the bullseye.

The typically generous British instinct is to say "live and let live". Things went wrong when it got bureaucratised. Local authorities started saying "we need to recognise this ethnic minority group" - so they would give them literature in their language or build them a community centre. It was like being in a restaurant where there's this great main table, then there are some other tables for the Africans or the Muslims. It was as if we were saying "you can have your own food over there but you don't really belong here at all".

Quite so. It's not just local authorities that have bureaucratised and regulated humanity and common sense out of existence, of course: schools, hospitals, the police, the social services and the courts have all suffered. Or, rather, the poor saps who have to come into contact with them have suffered. Professionals in all fields have been trained to stop thinking and apply rules, follow guidelines, hit targets. The problem was never really multiculturalism per se, appalling though its conesequences have been, especially for women in minority communities. The problem was with the administrative system which claimed that it was promoting equal rights when it was really a strategy of divide and rule.

As for Trevor's new empire, it could go either way. The breadth of its reach gives it a potentially dangerous ability to intervene in almost any aspect of life. Already Phillips is looking, Alexander-like, for new lands to conquer. "There are things we haven't thought of as equality issues" he says, "like carers, the mentally ill, genetic discrimination by insurance companies". Why stop there? How about the ginger-haired? They face a great deal of unfair prejudice. Or Goths?

On the other hand, if everyone belongs to some kind of minority group (which they do, even middle-class white men, who are actually a rather small minority) then everyone has the right to complain to Trevor Phillips. So the possibility (faint, admittedly) arises that the CEHR will not only test the ideology of group-rights to breaking point, but actually break it. If you are a poor, lesbian, disabled, Muslim woman, what category to you belong to? Easy. You are a human being.