A chilling logic and an ill wind

By Geoffrey Alderman, February 21, 2014

As we all know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In the past week, two stories broke which, I fear, may reinforce the depressing truth of this axiom. But my purpose in retelling them is not to indulge in intellectual banter or philosophical argument. It is, rather, to issue a warning.

On February 10, the House of Commons, in a free vote, agreed overwhelmingly to support a proposal that at some future date a ban be instituted on smoking in cars when children are present. This decision marked the successful culmination of a campaign spearheaded by Jewish MP Luciana Berger, who is Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister. The relevant amendment to the Children and Families Bill is not quite the end of the story, because the government will now have to consult on precisely how the ban is to be enforced. But the principle has been agreed. It is not one which I support.

I am a lifelong non-smoker and, at home, my family and I do not permit smoking of any description. I believe tobacco smoking to be a grubby habit as well as an often fatal addiction. But a home, like a car, is a private space. More to the point, the care of children is primarily a parental responsibility. In pushing for a ban on smoking in cars when children are present, Ms Berger and her allies have spat in the face of that responsibility, and effectively repudiated it.

It’s not the car ban itself that worries me. It’s the ramifications – the slippery slope that she has now impenitently propelled us down. For if I am to be judged criminally liable because I permit my child to travel in a car in which there are active smokers, why should I not be similarly condemned, and punished, if I permit smoking in my home, which is also my child’s home? And if I am to be punished for permitting smoking in my home, why not extend the punishment to other activities which, some argue, are harmful to my children? Eating junk food? Watching unsuitable TV programmes? Practising and enforcing a certain religious code? Even carrying out a brit milah? The logic is chilling.

On the very day that Ms Berger triumphed, her colleague Chuka Umunna, the Shadow Business Secretary, gave a warm welcome to a report published by Green Park Diversity Analytics, which claims to be at “the very forefront of the executive search and interim management industry,” and which boasts as its “Strategic Board Adviser” the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips (also a Labour Party member).

Green Park investigated the boards of leading FTSE 100 British companies and claimed to have discovered that 53 of them had no board members from ethnic minorities, and that two-thirds of them had all-white executive teams. Seizing on these findings, Phillips, reportedly the instigator of this project, claimed that with so little ethnic (and female) representation on their boards, the UK’s largest companies were “stuck in the 1950s.” But it was Umunna who warned that “if we do not see enough progress on increasing diversity in our boardrooms” a future Labour government would “consider introducing more prescriptive measures, such as quotas.”

Let’s be clear. When Green Park talks about “ethnic minority leaders” it is not referring to Jews, unless these Jews happen to be of Afro-Caribbean, Indian sub-continent or Chinese or other Asian origin. My gut feeling is that if the research had been able to separate out those executives who are Jewish, certain sectors (such as finance, banking and retailing) would have exhibited a pronounced ethnic minority over-representation. What would happen, in these sectors, if a Labour government were to introduce legally enforceable “ethnic” quotas? The answer, surely, has to be that Jews would find themselves discriminated against, as they would be forced out in order to make way for executive from non-white groups. The logic, again, is chilling.

What, you might ask, could possibly be wrong with positive discrimination? And who, you might wonder, could possibly object to protecting children from thoughtless parents? You might so ask and wonder. Until you think things through.

Last updated: 1:18pm, February 21 2014