Discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion and age is bad. Bad. I'm sure I have the agreement of everyone on that1. The recent investigation by the BBC into the police forces 'institutional' racism provoked such a reaction from the public that everybody but the most ardent Jim Davidson fan is openly discriminatory2.
'I am fully seized of your ideas and I have taken them on board and I am now positively against discrimination against women and positively in favour of positive discrimination in their favour - discriminating discrimination, of course.'
Sir Humphrey Appleby, from the BBC series Yes Minister
So why is positive discrimination favoured so much by this country's political parties? It is clearly discrimination. It clearly goes against the principal of equal opportunities. It clearly has no moral basis, as you can't stop discrimination (in the negative sense) by being discriminatory (in the positive sense). As everyone knows, two wrongs don't make a right. So how has this state of affairs come to be? Both the Liberal Democrats and Labour have all-women shortlists for selecting Parliamentary candidates. Both parties state this is to 're-dress' the balance. Does nobody else think this is condescending to women? That it is saying to women, 'you can't become an Member of Parliament without a little help from us men'. Let's not forget that the longest serving Prime Minister of the 20th Century, Margaret Thatcher, became Prime Minister through ability only, without the aid of women-only shortlists. It should also be noted that one of the main arguments for positive discrimination for black people is that in general black people live in impoverished areas and therefore are at a natural disadvantage. Diane Abbot, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington recently used this argument as the reason she sent her son to a fee-paying school rather than a state one, pointing out that most black boys in state schools do less well than their white counterparts. One look at the league tables shows that girls perform better than boys at all levels of education. Doesn't that mean that men should be positively discriminated for, rather than women? After all, they are at a natural disadvantage. Of course not, everyone should be treated equally. There should be no discrimination, positive or otherwise.
'I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.'
Martin Luther King
We shouldn't be afraid to fight for equal opportunities, to say that any discrimination is wrong and the first step towards this should be the abolition of all-women shortlists and choosing who fights Parliamentary elections purely on the basis of merit. If we are truly blind to sex, race, religion and age, this will mean a broad selection of people from all backgrounds, as no one group has a monopoly on excellence. After all, if the backlash against positive discrimination seen in the letters pages of the Daily Mail is anything to go by, political parties might actually win votes for a courageous stand against this damaging practise that can only highlight the differences between sexes or races, not the many similarities amongst all of us.