Trevor Phillips — Daily Mail Feb 23, 2017
A few weeks ago, I observed that Barack Obama’s iconic status as the first African-American U.S. President should not obscure his mixed political record.
For that, I was accused by one Radio 4 commentator of peddling a ‘racist narrative’.
As a black man and former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, you might think I would be surprised to face a charge of racism — but I was not.
For at a time when this country is crying out for frank discussion on issues such as race and sexuality, debate is being closed down because those who find offence in every-thing cry ‘racist’ or ‘sexist’.
The result — as I argue tonight in a TV programme — is that our political and cultural elite seem unable to speak plainly about things that concern many citizens.
While our rulers seem to have all the time in the world to debate who should use which lavatory (in deference to the transgender lobby), they dismiss anxieties about overcrowded schools or doctors’ surgeries as merely a bigoted dislike of migrants.
How has this come about?
Forty years ago, ‘identity’ politics was about trying to end discrimination. It led to revolutionary legislation on gender, disability and race.
But recently the recognition of diversity has grown into a cancerous cultural tyranny that blocks open debate.
In higher education, it has spread like wildfire.
Efforts to keep real racists off university platforms have been perverted so bans are imposed on, for example, speakers with unfashionable views on transsexuals.
Harmless academics are falling prey, too. Sensible people are appalled at the way Nobel Laureate Sir Tim Hunt was hounded out of his post at University College London for a weak joke about women crying in laboratories.
Hardly a day goes by on campuses without a demand for a statue to be removed or for ‘safe spaces’ where sensitive students can be sheltered from robust views in a cultural debate or sexual violence in a classic literary text.
But how is a young person to understand how precious are the freedoms we enjoy today without learning what the world was like before them?
Should I not tell my children about the agony and struggle for liberation of their own ancestors, who were once slaves on sugar plantations?
Unfortunately, this thin-skinned refusal to engage with the challenging realities of life is not restricted to academia.
There is no hiding place from the language police, even if you belong to a ‘vulnerable’ group.
Ten years ago, I suggested Notting Hill Carnival had become an international event and outgrown its roots in the West Indian community — hardly a deeply provocative observation.
In response, the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, opined I had become so Right-wing I really belonged in the British National Party.
Sometimes the pressures to conform are subtle and insidious but no less powerful.In 2009, several Labour MPs, including some ministers, mounted a private campaign to get Prime Minister Gordon Brown to dismiss me from the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
My principal sin, I think, had been to support the appointment of a leading black evangelical Christian.
I thought the thousands of black and Asian Christians who are reviving our churches should be represented.
But it happens that many of these evangelicals take a dim view of homosexuality. I don’t agree with them, but I felt the EHRC had to respect and reflect all points of view.
Some government ministers saw things differently. They also wanted to see a black commissioner appointed — but only one whose views echoed their own in every way.
Without the intervention of Harriet Harman, Brown would probably have sacked me.
Yet by striving to appease special interests, even well-intentioned ‘equality warriors’ lay themselves open to the charge that they value diversity only as long as it serves their political purpose.
Take the recent decision by John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, to try to ban President Trump from speaking in the Palace of Westminster because of his supposed Islamophobia.
There is no systematic persecution of American Muslims by their own government, yet in other countries Muslims fear for their lives.
Uyghur Muslims in China are forbidden from practising their religion if they are civil servants.
In Myanmar, thousands of Muslims have fled abroad to escape rape and murder at the hands of the country’s Buddhist majority.
And India’s Supreme Court ordered an investigation into prime minister Narendhra Modi’s complicity in the 2002 Gujarat riots in which more than 700 Muslims died.
Yet China’s president Xi Jinping, Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and India’s Modi have all been afforded the honour of speaking to both Houses of Parliament.
The new tyranny is also threatening the study of what really makes the world tick, even if that research might help to reduce inequality.
For example, we still have no proper explanation for the stunning academic success of pupils of Chinese heritage across the Western world.
My attempts to promote such research were resisted by academics, who claimed it would belittle other ethnic groups.
The real losers in this refusal to tackle race and gender issues honestly are, ironically, women and ethnic minorities.
A business leaders’ think-tank, the Centre for Talent Innovation, found that many female and minority executives in the U.S. complained their bosses were too afraid of being accused of racism or sexism to talk to them honestly about their performance.
They only found out they had been failing professionally when they were fired.
Hypersensitivity about offending minorities has also stopped us having a grown-up debate about migration.
Last week, Tony Blair, in his speech on Brexit, said ‘immigration is the issue’. Whatever you think of him, most polls show he was right about that.
Yet since last June, most politicians have tried to pretend the Brexit vote had little to do with the cultural impact of immigration.
The Right fear sounding like racists; the Left won’t discuss it because their celebration of multiculturalism as a blessing makes them seem metropolitan elitists.
And when conventional politicians try to tackle the issue, they make a hash of it.
The hapless Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, recently called on Dutch Muslims to ‘be normal or be gone’. And he leads something that describes itself as the Liberal Party!
One Left-wing newspaper has denounced my TV film on political correctness as ‘unhelpful’. Unhelpful to whom, I wonder?