Discrimination is wrong – but so is state interference
UKIP small-state reputation contradicts its desire to restrict immigration.
Donna Edmunds, a UK Independence Party (UKIP) councillor in Lewes and a candidate in the upcoming European Parliament elections, has created a furore by suggesting that businesses should not be regulated by the government in relation to who they choose to serve. But far from being some kind of antediluvian reactionary, her point is a perfectly reasonable one. It’s a shame, however, that UKIP is so inconsistent on the matter of governments meddling in our lives.
In response to a question on a local forum, Edmunds wrote: ‘I believe that all business owners, Christian, Muslim, gay, straight, should be allowed to withhold their services from whomever they choose whenever they choose. It’s their business. Why should they be forced to serve or sell to anyone?’ Edmunds was not suggesting that discrimination was a good idea. As a woman, she would clearly prefer not to be discriminated against routinely because of her gender.
Private businesses – indeed any private organisations – should be able to organise their affairs as they see fit without state interference. That doesn’t mean you approve of discrimination, you simply defend the right of individuals and private groups to be the ultimate arbiter of what they do. That applies every bit as much to Christian guesthouse owners who don’t want to accommodate a gay couple as it does to a women’s group that wants to exclude men from its meetings. (Of course, state-funded organisations, paid for by everyone, should not discriminate.)
It is perfectly reasonable to disagree with a business owner’s decision not to serve someone without thinking the state should legislate on the matter. As the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin once noted on the question of national self-determination, defending a right is not the same as demanding that it should be exercised on every possible occasion: ‘[T]he recognition of the right to divorce does not preclude agitation against divorce in a particular case.’ Most businesses, of course, have enough sense to realise that one person’s money is as good as another’s.
Part of UKIP’s popularity has been its willingness to take a fairly libertarian line on all the petty nanny-state regulation of recent years. A substantial proportion of the population would love the political class to butt out when it comes to everyday choices about smoking, drinking and so on.
However, UKIP is on a sticky wicket on this one. Because more than any other party, UKIP wants greater controls on immigration. A more consistently liberal (in the classical sense) line would be that people should be free to live and work – to ‘do business’ in relation to their own labour – where they choose, too. For those interested in liberty, a good place to start would be the nation’s borders.
As it happens, UKIP couldn’t even manage to be consistently libertarian when it came to Edmunds’ remarks. A spokesman for UKIP said: ‘Ms Edmunds’ comments appear somewhat misguided and we do not endorse the position intimated, but we believe she has apologised for the remarks.’ In other words, UKIP seems just as willing to play the political image game as the major parties.
Rob Lyons is associate editor at spiked.