Terence Blacker: We don't need a lesson in fairness from Harriet

Ms Harman's proposal is less an equality bill than a niceness bill

Related Topics

It was the breastfeeding clause that tripped me up. Only the most heartless brute could oppose the idea of Harriet Harman's Equality Bill, even if it has sometimes seemed that New Labour introduces an Equality Bill every year or so, usually when things are getting rough on the political front.

Under this latest version, there will be a gender pay audit to force companies to reveal any discriminatory pattern in the way they pay men and women. Local health and education authorities, as well as development agencies, will be required to show that they are favouring deprived areas, parents and patients, when allocating resources. Employers will be encouraged to discriminate positively in order to establish a balanced work force. Discriminating by age "outside the workplace" will be banned, as will any form of discrimination within private clubs. Oh, and the bill will be "offering new mothers stronger protection when breastfeeding".

It is less an equality bill, than a general niceness bill. Any area suspected of what Harriet Harman describes as "old-fashioned prejudices" will be subject to legal scrutiny. In the way of ministers on the make, Harman claims that her policy is in line with the mood of the moment. "The whole issue of fairness has come centre stage," she says. "A big economic shock makes people ask a lot of questions. This is part of the answer, that everybody gets a fair chance, and the old prejudices are not just accepted."

Some might say that it takes a special brand of cheek to preach a sermon of fairness after what has happened under 12 years of New Labour rule. Harman complains of the super-rich and the "huge divisions" within society as if those divisions have not actually increased in recent years.

Another huge division exists. It is between the steaming muck-heap of warm words which accompanies these grandly ambitious pieces of legislative social engineering, and how they are enacted once they are enshrined in law. As anyone will know who has looked for work, the increasingly complex and punitive state of employment law has had many effects but fairness is not one of them. A prim, cover-your-back, safety-first culture is settling upon the work-place and upon government agencies. It sets apart, and above the rest of us, those who are good at understanding it, at dropping the right buzz-words in their reports, at finding their way through the arcane bureaucracy it has created, at appearing to do the right thing, of filling up the right forms, while not actually doing it.

Harriet Harman has denied that the Government will be encouraging employees to exercise positive discrimination on behalf of job applicants who are working class or who come from a deprived area. Why not? Surely that, too, is unfair. The scope for more busy form-filling is endless. Perhaps it will be included when the next equality bill comes round.


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: Our representatives must represent us

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot