I’m not entirely sure what to make of today’s sketch by Quentin Letts, which is centers on the very Mail idea of ‘fairness’:
“The equality maniacs are rampant. If they have their way it will be quotas at every turn, all-ethnic shortlists, ‘equality audits’ in political parties and a limit of four parliamentary terms per MP before enforced retirement kicks in. All to speed up the process of ‘making Parliament more representative’.”
Now, on the one hand, I can totally agree with him that quotas and all-ethnic shortlists are bad things, not least because being discriminatory in the name of equal opportunities seems perverse. But on the other, is there anyone who’s against Parliament being more representative? Here’s Richard Littlejohn on the subject a year ago:
“Straw’s government introduced one-sided devolution and uses Scottish MPs to force upon the English laws which do not apply to their own constituents. The English have no say in what happens on the Scottish side of the border, yet are expected to pick up the lion’s share of the bill.”
Indeed, don’t we want to make public bodies in general more representative of the people they serve? Here’s Stephen Glover, last month:
“Our publicly-funded broadcaster can’t succeed if it is run by a narrow sect unrelated to the values of the people it is supposed to serve and inspire.”
In Letts’ defence, I haven’t found him speaking out previously in favour of greater representativeness anywhere, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but his is certainly an interesting position to take in a newspaper otherwise so scrupulously defensive of rights of representation. Particularly when discussing a committee which has yet to decide anything yet – the sketch outlined a session of the Speaker’s Conference, not its report. None of the dim future he foresees has yet come to pass. Who knows, on the back of this article he may be invited to outline his objections and alternatives.
At which point he would be stuck. I think the last time I looked at the sketch, I was mildly depressed by its negativity, and it’s got no better:
“When Mr Bercow was discussing bigots he put on an Alf Garnett-style accent. Of course, Mr Bercow himself is a prime example of a minority: Village idiots.”
Which dismisses Bercow’s point (about bigots in the media), but doesn’t engage with it. In a similar fashion, Letts takes snide pot shots at the idea of speeding along representative equity without ever saying why it’s a bad thing or what his alternative is. The people on the Conference are lampooned, but to what effect? If the ideas are so obviously wrong, it should be an easy task for him to knock them down, but instead he targets the village idiot, the “purple-nosed Solomon, that leathery fool Speaker Martin”, the “TUC sister”, the “suave charmer” who runs the organisation that “costs £70million of our money a year”. The only times he put forward an argument is when dealing with side issues like the suggestion that there should be limits on service in Parliament or whether or not Parliament contains gay role models.
Now, there’s a debate to be had in this area, and it’s quite an interesting one: for instance, does a political system based on constituencies need to pay heed to matters of diversity, or do we feel that our unity of locality neutralises our other differences? If we do feel we need a more representative parliament, can we achieve this in a first-past-the-post system where regional minorities are always at an electoral disadvantage? Can we legitimately restrict the franchise in the name of encouraging diversity, be it through quotas or any other method? Is the most we can do mere encouragement to stand for Parliament, or is even this affirmative action demeaning and discriminatory? It’s clear from the quotes he selects and the tone of his piece that Quentin has questions like this to ask, but we don’t get them, only the bashing of people who should be considering such questions. It’s probably more a failing of the sketch as a genre than of this one in particularly, but it feels like aa cop out.