A question of discrimination

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield should say that letting women in would be a 'mindbogglingly inappropriate' slur on its ancient traditions.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics
  • Golfing tips

The vile spectre of Discrimination is stalking the kingdom once more. The charity Age Concern has renewed its calls on the government to stamp out ageism, launching on 16 July its ‘age equality contract’. It cites the statistic that one in six people over 65 have been discriminated against in healthcare or health insurance because of their age. ‘Ageism denies services everyone should have a right to, standing in the way of the real contribution any of us over 50 have to make to the workplace, economy and community’, declared Gordon Lishman, director-general of Age Concern England.

At the other end of the spectrum, in June 2002 six children aged 10 to 16 gave evidence to a committee of MPs and peers, with the aim of urging the government to appoint a children’s rights commission to protect their human rights. There have been rumblings in America about discrimination against fat people, and UK sports minister Richard Caborn expressed his disappointment this week at the decision to hold The Open golf championship at Muirfield, a club which bars women from membership and the club house.

All this is not very new. In December 1999, an Equal Opportunities Bill mooted the idea of forbidding sexual discrimination in men-only clubs. The bill did not get its way, though it is clear the issue still grates with some people enormously, and it will not go away. By 2006, Britain will have to comply with EU legislation that forbids discrimination on the grounds of religion, disability, age and sexual orientation.

As ever, this mentality begs more questions than it asks. It will mean trouble for pubs that operate an over-21 policy, not to mention bars in London and Manchester’s gay districts. Sexual segregation in gyms and indeed public toilets may fall foul of such legislation. The Women’s Institute will be in trouble and it will be hard to justify state pensions. After all, why should only old people receive extra state money while us youngsters are deprived such funds? We have a worthwhile contribution to make to the workplace, economy and community too.

This is a libertarian standpoint. Personally, I believe in freedom of association in the private sphere. If old duffers and bores want a men-only club, let them. If you are proprietor of a gay-only bar, your business will suffer if punters are put off by trendy hetros ruining the flavour of the establishment.

You may disagree with this, but what is contemptible is the government’s inconsistency. While seeking to outlaw ‘discrimination’ in the private sphere, the government is actually in the process of implementing it in the public sphere – by extending the number of state-run faith schools. There should be no unfair discrimination in public bodies because we are all compelled to pay for them through taxes, and if it is a state-owned institution, it therefore performs a public function for everybody.

Religions by their very nature discriminate against non-members of their faith. The moral of this story is that if you want to get away with discriminating against others, protest that your behaviour is part of your culture or inviolable ‘identity’. If the club at Muirfield seeks to continue as it does, I suggest it declare itself a religious organisation tomorrow, and say that any attempts to change its rules would be a ‘deeply offensive’ and ‘mindbogglingly inappropriate’ slur on its ancient traditions.

  • Out to lunch

The think-tank Demos has argued that unhealthy food should be taxed. A report, Inconvenience Food, launched on 17 July, argues that a levy should be put on ‘fatty, highly processed and fast foods’ because a poor diet is to blame for health problems such as obesity. Tax raised from the charge should be used to encourage healthy eating habits. ‘We are saying there should be some disincentive mechanism to tackle the issue of low cost, high fat, low nutritional food, which is bought disproportionately by low income people’, argues a Demos spokesman.

Before taking notice of this suggestion, the government must be reminded that its identical policy towards smoking has not worked, and has hit the poor the hardest – as will this potential tax. A far bigger contribution to Britain’s expanding waistline is the lack of exercise people undertake. The effect of ‘Stranger-danger’ campaigns has been that the young are forbidden by their parents to walk to school or play in the open. Instead, they are cooped up indoors playing computer games, evolving into mountains of blubber.

It is easy to blame the government and the media for promoting this culture of fear, but parents must be taken to task too. A concurrent survey by a jury of 800 parents recruited by the Food Commission has concluded this week that some food designed for kiddies’ lunchboxes are not as healthy as they appear to be. Apparently, many parents had misjudged how good Dairylea Lunchables, Sunny Delight and Kellogg’s Real Fruit Winders were for their children.

Of Sunny Delight, one adult bemoaned: ‘I fell for the marketing of it as a health drink until a friend made me read the small print on the label.’ They also complained that McDonald’s Happy Meals used ‘an amazing selection of toys linked to films to encourage children to pester their parents to visit the restaurants’.

The prevalence of gullible parents who are hostage to the whims of their offspring – this is the real menace stalking the land.

  • Climate change

Extracts from the Ancient Anglo-Saxon Book of Aphorisms and Maxims

Number 97: ‘Those who were complaining about the cold, wet weather last week will next week complain that it’s too hot and sticky.’

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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