Last week, the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published an extraordinary ‘open letter’ which chastised politicians (and by implication, voters), and warned them about their future conduct.
The letter says Britain must be a ‘vibrant and inclusive’ society. It expresses concern that this vision is threatened by the political climate and policy proposals that have followed the Brexit vote. It makes a series of recommendations which, it argues, will return Britain to inclusive business as usual. It claims that, as an official body, the EHRC should be in charge of facilitating the nation’s post-Brexit political debates, by which it appears to mean it should police and regulate discussion of Brexit.
The EHRC claims that divisions over a number of unresolved ‘big questions’ are ‘widening and exacerbating’ tensions in society, despite post-referendum promises from politicians to ‘heal the nation’. To support its claims, the letter links actual events (the murder of a Polish man, which is actually not being treated as a hate crime) to the reported, but unproven rise in post-referendum hate crime. It even discusses a rise in homophobic attacks since Brexit, which is bizarre since homosexuality was a total non-issue in the referendum.
The letter says the ‘vast majority’ of those who voted Leave didn’t do so because they are intolerant, but it says there are nonetheless ‘those’ — an unspecified group — who have used the public’s concern about immigration policy and the economy to ‘legitimise hate’. The EHRC conjures up an image of a hateful, even violent country, for which there is just no hard evidence.
Then it issues a series of finger-wagging policy recommendations, which seem primarily designed to rein in the passions of voters. It is careful to state that ‘robust discussion is a central pillar of our democracy and nothing should be done to undermine freedom of expression’, but — there is always a ‘but’ — it says pressure should be put on politicians to make sure they speak in a cool way. Politicians must be aware of the ‘national mood’ when announcing policies, the letter says. They must engage people on contentious issues in a ‘responsible and considered’ fashion.