One feature of the Equality Bill is that it will allow companies to discriminate against white men in order to boost the number of female or ethnic minority employees.
This effectively means that people will be chosen on the basis of race and ethnicity rather than merit, but Harman doesn't want to admit this. At the government website we're told that employers will be allowed to take "positive action" to hire women or ethnic minority applicants, but that:
Positive discrimination (employing someone because of a characteristic regardless of merit) will remain illegal.
In other words, they want to maintain the fiction that they're hiring on merit even when they're practising affirmative action. A necessary self-deceit perhaps.
Anyway, the Equality Bill was criticised by the Pope as it could potentially be used to force the Church to hire job applicants who acted against the Church's teachings.
Enter Simon Jenkins, a writer for the very liberal Guardian newspaper and a former editor of the Times. He decided to back the Pope in a column which I think is revealing of contemporary liberalism. It's revealing because it demonstrates the difficulty that a liberal like Jenkins has with religion, whilst also being an admission that contemporary liberalism has become intolerant.
This is how Jenkins frames the issue:
The Roman Catholic church may be a hotbed of religious prejudice, indoctrination and, somewhere in the United Kingdom, social division. But faced with Harriet Harman's equality bill and her utopian campaign to straighten all the rough timber of mankind, the pope's right to practise what he preaches needs defending.
A hotbed of religious prejudice? Is that how a former editor of the Times looks on the Catholic Church? I wouldn't describe my local parish that way. It usually strikes me as overly sedate and casual and flavoured heavily with a social justice doctrine derived more from secular liberalism than from Catholic orthodoxy.
Jenkins later describes the Church in these terms:
The church's historic aversion to religious debate and dissent, its pathological conservatism, its veneration of relics, its cruelty to its own adherents and its necrophilia make the pope's plea for tolerance ring hollow.
Pathological conservatism? Cruelty to its own adherents? Necrophilia? Again, I find it disconcerting that someone from the upper echelons of the media would write this way. (And why is the veneration of relics an act of intolerance - what is happening in the liberal mind here?)
Jenkins does not, though, support the use of the Equality Bill against the churches. He believes that this only furthers the imposition of state control. He goes so far as to admit that,
British liberalism has had a good half-century, but has begun to lurch into the intolerance it purports to oppose. It should loosen up and acknowledge that some communal space must be allowed the old illiberalism.
I'm not entirely sure how to react to this. Jenkins does recognise that liberalism has become intolerant, but his alternative is merely that we non-liberals be granted "some communal space". So much for liberalism supposedly being neutral. It is revealed here as the governing principle of society.
Nor am I sure how to respond to this attempt at sympathy toward traditionalists by Jenkins:
There are still large numbers of Britons who are uncomfortable with those whose behaviour diverges from what they see as traditional norms. These conservatives have swallowed much this past half-century, as authoritarianism has been steadily eradicated by liberal legislation on homosexuality, abortion, divorce and free speech.
Occasionally the liberalism has looked more like intolerance, as over smoking and aspects of "hate speech". Indeed to some people, liberalism's onward march has seemed more like a jackboot in the face. A few have reacted by retreating into a know-nothing fundamentalism, as witnessed in many parts of America.
Jenkins has already admitted that liberalism has become intolerant in imposing itself on society. So it's not really a case of liberalism ushering in a less authoritarian society, thereby upsetting traditionalists. There is still an authoritarianism, a liberal one, combined with the divergence from traditional norms.
Nor is the most significant reaction against liberalism a "know-nothing fundamentalism". What's more important is the growing sense of division between the liberal elite and the rest of society. Many people now have the sense of no longer being truly represented by the political class.