Bill Jamieson: The myth of a tolerant, inclusive Britain

Tim Farron felt compelled to resign following criticism for holding orthodox Christian views, says Bill Jamieson.
Tim Farron felt compelled to resign following criticism for holding orthodox Christian views, says Bill Jamieson.
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Our commitment to diversity has been found wanting, and suppression has taken a grip of society says Bill Jamieson

Today the new religion is diversity. We pride ourselves on our inclusiveness, our open-armed embrace of things with which we may not agree. Across the political and broadcasting realm, there seems a pathological need to reinforce at every turn our magnanimous tolerance and our liberal, progressive credentials.

But just how robust is our commitment to diversity and tolerance? I fear that the opposite is the direction of travel. Many will disagree with the views I set out here. But I am not alone in my apprehension that we are heading in a fateful direction.

Intolerance and enforced conformity is creeping across a once-liberal realm like a choking knotweed, suppressing views and opinions with which the upholders of ‘diversity’ disagree.

From ‘safe’ spaces at universities, obligatory knee-jerk virtue signalling, howling down of opponents and removal of dissenting voices, barely a week goes by without disconcerting evidence of a new and oppressive absolutism.

Recent examples include the firing of Google employee James Damore, for a memo in which he was accused – how ironic this - of “breaking diversity rules”. His sin was to opine that the gender disparity in certain jobs may in part be due to biological factors. One poster on Twitter claimed to have been so “deeply and viscerally upset” that he had to leave work for the day.

Earlier this month we saw the attempt by the management of the National Trust to oblige staff to wear Gay Pride badges. Those who declined to conform were to be moved out of sight to back office duties. Such was the furore, both across the Trust membership as well as affected staff, that the Trust – sensibly – relented.

Earlier this summer the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron felt compelled to resign following criticism for holding orthodox Christian views on homosexual practice. “I seem to have been the subject of suspicion,” he said, “because of what I believe and who my faith is in. In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant liberal society, and that is why I have chosen to stand down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.”

Note that he was not criticised for his actions, or praised for increasing the party’s representation at the election. As the author of the Scottish Grain of Sand website observed, “He was not criticised for his policy proposals, which are all in line with party thinking. He was not criticised because of his actions in Parliament, he has consistently voted for LBGT rights. Tim Farron was pushed out because of what he thought.”

Nor is this the only example of illiberal thoughts from a Lib Dem leader. Mr Farron’s successor, Vince Cable, launched a vicious attack last week on “the old” of having “comprehensively shafted the young”, suggesting that Brexiteer pensioners have succeeded in “imposing a world view coloured by nostalgia for an imperial past on a younger generation much more comfortable with modern Europe”.

This, along with talk about Brexit “martyrs” and “jihadis”, suggests that while racism, sexism and homophobia are beyond the pale, ageism is not just to be tolerated but held up as a liberal virtue.

Now we have always been surrounded by opinions with which we disagree. Very few in public life have any sympathy with racist, sexist or homophobic views. But it is one thing to disagree and make that disagreement vigorously known. It is another to have views with which we disagree subjected to outright ban and suppression. Yet in a disconcerting number of cases the very zeal for tolerance is pushing many into frenzies of intolerance.

On broadcast media, it is not enough for interviewers to expose the views of those whom they are questioning and allow them to hang themselves by their own words. The tone of many political interviews now is brazenly hostile and intimidatory. It is as if the objective is not a quest for revelation but humiliation by badgering and inquisition, with a fusillade of further questions fired before answers are allowed. Is there an interviewer left on the BBC who is impartial and who commands the respect and authority that comes of being above the fray?

Often we now encounter emotion triumphing over logic; censorship based on the taking of offence; apologias for history (and in some cases removal or obliteration of historic monument); the assertion that feelings matter more than facts; Twitter storms; the ascendancy of victim culture; and all this hand-in-hand with an indifference to our economic stagnation, preferring, it seems, a vastly staffed and resourced regulatory bureaucracy – a conformist straitjacket at the expense of vision and idea.

Many blame the rise of “social media” for this distinct – and unnerving – change in our public culture. Its instant access and immediacy allows the expression of views unmediated by reflection and second thought. How often, after our own arguments and disagreements, have we not regretted a thoughtless word or phrase that that we wish we had been left unspoken, or phrased differently?

Just a brief exposure to public discussion today would reveal that we are not the inclusive, tolerant society we pride ourselves on being. A view weeks ago I received a letter from a reader, a prominent and respected figure in Scottish business life, quoting an assessment she had sent to the BBC on how she thought things had changed over the last 60 years. Here is what she wrote:

“We have been encouraged to become more tolerant of certain issues such as sexual orientation, ideologies, religions, cultures and backgrounds. However, at the same time, we have become hugely intolerant of accepting leadership, accepting political outcomes, accepting the status quo, accepting personal relationships that fall short of expectations (hence the short duration of marriage and partnerships), of accepting discomfort of any kind, and we are critical of services many of which have cost us nothing or very little.

“Overall we have become very intolerant of trying to live within our means. We want more for less. Expectations of what we are owed are greater than what we want to contribute. Demonstrations are everywhere, particularly from minority groups whilst the established views of the majority remain (for fear of possible implications to family or reputations). Democracy is on the verge of destroying the very values it aims to preserve.”

In this, the writer has succinctly captured the dismay and unease that a great many now feel about our politics and culture today. The lack of public questioning that has accompanied this change may not be acquiescence in the new liberal absolutism but a fear of the angry bile and denunciation that such questioning would attract. Little wonder that so many are choosing to opt out and disengage from so-called “inclusive Britain”.

I do hope I am wrong on this. But I fear we are truly heading in a fateful direction and one we will come to bitterly regret.