Last October, the Conservative MP for Monmouth, David Davies, addressed the annual conference of the National Black Police Association. Mr Davies had apparently been invited by mistake — the NBPA had meant to ask the former shadow Home Secretary, David Davis. No matter, Mr Davies is a special constable.
The speech he gave clearly arrested his audience — so much so that, while some gave him the slow handclap, others simply walked out.
What precisely had he said? Well, he had drawn attention to a peculiarity of the NBPA’s rules of membership (and, by extension, the membership rules of organisations representing black police officers in regional forces, such as the Metropolitan Police).
Mr Davies observed that, while UK police officers of black, Asian or “middle eastern” origin were welcome to join as full members, “white” officers could only become associate members. Denying full membership to white officers, said Mr Davies, “could be viewed as racism”. The subsequent discussion, he reported, “got very heated… but what I said was a matter of principle.”
So it was. I was reminded of it as I read that the Equality and Human Rights Commission had commenced legal proceedings against the British National Party.
In the view of the EHRC, the BNP is in breach of UK race-relations legislation. “The legal advice we have received (explained the EHRC’s legal director, John Wadham) indicates that the… party’s constitution and membership criteria, employment practices and provision of services to constituents and the public may breach discrimination laws.”
The BNP’s current rules restrict membership to “indigenous Caucasian” and “ethnic groups emanating from that Race”. What does this actually mean?
The court will no doubt tell us if it can, and it is certainly not for me to pre-judge that decision. But, whatever the merits of the case, or its outcome, we do have to ask why the EHRC has seen fit to seek an injunction against the BNP, but not the NBPA? Or the National Association of Muslim Police? Or the British Sikh Police Association?
“Ah,” explained an academic colleague far more sympathetically inclined than I am towards the EHRC, “the Sikh and Muslim police associations discriminate for membership purposes on religious, not racial grounds.”
I wonder. After all — as we were reminded in the recent JFS case — Sikhs have been declared to be, in law, an ethnic group, like Jews. The NBPA and its affiliates are racial entities. And my friend agreed with me that the timing of the EHRC’s action against the BNP is also suspect.
After all, the BNP has been around since 1982, the EHRC since 2007, while its predecessor body, the Commission for Racial Equality, dates from 1976. So why wait until now to move against the BNP and all its works?
Well, the EHRC has been astonishingly frank in answering this question. A spokesperson explained that what had triggered its action had been the BNP’s recent electoral successes, and the fact that it now boasts two MEPs.
This strikes me as incredibly short-sighted on the part of the leadership of the EHRC.
If the injunction is granted, this might well result in the BNP leaders being carted off to the local nick. Result? Much more useful publicity for the BNP, which we can be sure will play the martyr’s card in the run-up to the next general election.
If the BNP changes its membership rules, this can only result in more members, thus (albeit perversely) boosting its membership and its right to media time at that election.
If the injunction is refused, or successfully appealed against, the EHRC will have become a national laughing-stock.
Any of these scenarios must be of concern to British Jewry. But there is another dimension that must concern us. The JFS case is due to come before the House of Lords next month. The Board of Deputies has promised to intervene as a “friend of the court”, to give guidance on “who is a Jew”.
If the EHRC has seen fit to move against the BNP, and if it is to avoid any further charge of double-standards, it must surely then intervene in the JFS case, mustn’t it?