Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Ruth Kelly and Equality Policies

There is a lot I like about the post-1997 Labour Government equality policies. I like the positive duties on public authorities in the fields of race, disability and now gender. I like the support for Article 13 EC introduced in 1997 and for EU directives based on Article 13 introduced in 2000, which required unanimous agreement amongst the Member States and which cover the fields of non-discrimination on grounds of race, disability, age, sexual orientation and religion. I like the civil partnership legislation, although I wish it would be extended to heterosexuals (how much better to have *your* relationship recognised by the state, rather than being told by the state that through a contract it is creating a relationship for you). I am so far ambivalent about the replacement of the various separate commissions like the EOC and the CRE with the overarching Commission for Equality and Human Rights, because I fear it may not be adequately resourced. I don't like the fact that like public institutions in recent years, bodies such as the Commission for Racial Equality have been constantly restructured and refocused, and there has been constant revision and reviewing of the arrangements for covering equality within the framework of government departments.

And I absolutely don't like the appointment of Ruth Kelly as Minister for Women with overarching responsibility for equality matters in her capacity as Minister for Communities. I was in particular perturbed by her manner of evading questions about sin and homosexuality when pressed by journalists in the last few days.

At risk of offending those close to this blog who might think that expressing this objection is an expression of intolerance of someone's "private" views, and that calling for their replacement amounts to excluding those professing the Catholic faith from holding certain types of public office, or to discrimination against Catholics, I still hold firm to my objection to her appointment.

Of course, the difference between Ruth Kelly and Rocco Buttiglione, the Italian Minister nominated to be EU justice and home affairs commissioner (and thus with responsibility for human rights and equality matters), whose appointment was effectively vetoed by the European Parliament in 2004, is that he was a great deal more outspoken with his views (perhaps apeing the evident belief of his master Silvio Berlusconi, that you can say things that are unbelievably offensive and still largely get away with it), and Kelly has largely kept her own counsel about most matters, has insisted on the private nature of matters of conscience, and has asserted (in a manner which is not necessarily inconsistent with having a difficulty at the private level with homosexuality as such) that lesbians and gays should not be discriminated against in the employment or social sphere because they are lesbian or gay. Such an argument can of course simply be sustained on the grounds of the irrationality of such acts of prejudice. Anyway, the Labour MEPs who were so vehement in their objections to the socially conservative Buttiglione are not adopting the same posture on Kelly. In fact, Michael Cashman MEP has come out explicitly in her favour.

A neat post from Bookdrunk at Rhetorically Speaking makes the point about the public/private interface much more clearly than I could, and I dare to cite it in full:

Objections to Ruth Kelly are already being framed as a kind of religious intolerance. To make that claim means completely failing to recognise the doublethink at work here. If a person is seemingly confirmed in certain prejudices and has made no attempt to recant them, is it not in the slightest bit odd that the same person would be put in charge of challenging those very same prejudices? Kelly is fully entitled to whatever religious beliefs she chooses - but to pretend that the Catholic Church's position on gay people is compatible with advancing or protecting gay people's interests is ludicrous. Unless we embrace a kind of internalised hypocrisy as a virtue, her beliefs make her a bad candidate for this job. She's entitled to those beliefs but we can't pretend they don't raise huge questions about her competence to take on this role.

In a longer, related post, she develops other points about the difficulties of Kelly's candidature. The basic point is important. As Colin Richardson points out on Comment is Free, the basic legislative framework is in place (although you can certainly expect New Labour to keep fiddling with it ad infinitum), but it remains the case that 'real' equality for the types of groups protected by equality legislation is not achieved. Hence a real champion of equality is needed in that position. There are still complex processes of social exclusion which make, for example, issues of multiple discrimination particularly challenging. We need to go beyond non-discrimination instruments to introduce more mainstreaming, to challenge the way policy is made, as well as the outcomes it produces. Even if I were not already fairly underwhelmed by Kelly's record on policy delivery in other departments, I would be actively questioning whether she can and will deliver on *this* policy.


Blogger Martyn said...

I'm much more troubled by Kelly's Opus Dei connections than I was about Prescott's loving connections ;-)

It's amazing how she survives (public school girl), and Prescott (secondary modern school drop-out) quite rightly didn't. She get's nowhere near the same degree of press ridicule as Prezza always received, but I'd suggest the beliefs of your average Opus Dei member are far more ridiculous than Prescotts word-mangling.

Sunday, May 14, 2006  

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