Attacks on outspoken conservatives who annoy modish pressure-groups continue apace. Last week, Ann Farmer’s brilliant short TCW post raised the issue of Richard Page. A magistrate and a non-executive director of a Kent NHS trust, he made no secret of his Christian view that children ideally ought to be raised in a family with a (female) mother and (male) father. Having been fairly summarily removed from the magistracy on account of this (another ongoing affair of which we may hear more), he gave a number of interviews to the press and made a few appearances on TV in which he defended his stance. The NHS trust’s LGBT staff association heard, raised hell, and insisted that he be silenced (‘This opinion is highly offensive to same-sex parents, and if nothing is done about Mr Page’s statements, then [the Trust] will be seen as complicit with that attitude’ . . . ‘It would be highly damaging if the LGBT community, and society in general, were to see [the Trust] as harbouring this type of opinion without action.’)
Mr Page declined to agree never to air his views in public; the Trust then caved in to the LGBT pressure and sacked him. An employment tribunal three weeks ago backed the Trust, saying that the sacking was necessary to satisfy its duty to maintain equality, to keep good relations with the LGBT community and to maintain health (!), and did not amount to religious discrimination. It added for good measure that if Mr Page had been sacked because of a simple belief that homosexuality was wrong, then that too would have been justified because views of that kind were probably not ‘worthy of respect in a democratic society’ (yes, you read that right: it’s in Para 48 of the judgment if you want to check).
This preference on the part of inclusivity zealots running a publicly-funded organisation for PC social engineering over tolerating diversity of opinion is bad enough. Worse is the idea that any organisation should give effective power to a sectional pressure group whose only qualification for that power is being vocal enough to insist that it is not prepared to put up with sharing a workplace with someone whose views it strongly disagrees with. The parallels with the practice of 1970s trade unions in dictating who they were, and were not, willing to tolerate as co-workers are uncomfortably close.
But the most frightening thing of all, perhaps, is how far employers are allowed to do this. It’s not as if the Trust were the police or civil service seeking to avoid overt party politics, a church objecting to a verger’s public support for devil-worship, or a Labour club taking issue with its barman’s open backing for Moggmentum. There was no direct connection between Mr Page’s opinions and the work of himself or the Trust (which was dealing with mentaI health): the only difficulty was the strong views of views of other employees and a disconnection between what he said and a few abstract so-called ‘standards’, including promoting equality.
Unfortunately as the law now stands, employers do have a fairly wide ability to dictate to their employees what they are allowed to do and say outside the workplace, and threaten disciplinary sanctions for disobedience, provided they can point to a fairly tenuous connection with work and some fairly vague standard or ethos. An example of the latter might be ‘as employers our values include equality, inclusiveness and non-discrimination; both in and out of the workplace employees will avoid publishing material which is, or could be taken as, discriminatory, insulting or amounting to hate speech, or making offensive or derogatory comments relating to sex, gender-reassignment, race (including nationality), disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief or age’.
The result is that, in matters relating to speech, employers who can pay lawyers to draft the necessary paperwork have powers over their workers’ private lives and communications that many nineteenth-century Lancashire mill-owners would have envied. And many, especially in the public sector, do indeed behave just like that (the above quote comes word-for-word from one local authority’s employee discipline code). The effect is not hard to see: it’s a serious chilling of political discourse. Is it any wonder that a large proportion of those who write for TCW, or Spiked, or any number of other outlets, are lucky enough to be retired, or self-employed, or have complaisant employers? There must be many who, however much they might like to write for them, are kept out by the problem of potential trouble with the boss.
What is the answer? It’s simple, libertarian and thoroughly conservative: we need legislation setting limits to what employers are allowed to tell their employers not to say outside the workplace, and preventing them disciplining them except within those limits. Obviously there would have to be exceptions (the Forces and the civil service, for example). But a starting point might be this: any lawful statement or argument on matters of public or religious interest, provided that no mention was made of the employee’s affiliation and there was no breach of confidence or reference to any co-worker, the employer or any competitor. Keep within these lines and you’re protected. Come on, Theresa: take your mind off Brexit for a moment and embrace a vote-winner.