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Francis Maude should abolish the antiquated and intrusive Equality and Human Rights Commission now

By Matthew Barrett
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EHRCEarlier this month, Baroness (Onora) O'Neill of Bengarve was appointed the next Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). Welcoming the appointment, Maria Miller, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport – and, since the reshuffle, also the Minister for Women and Equalities –  said:

"This is a really important time for the EHRC – strong leadership is vital and the new Chair will play a crucial role in ensuring that it remains the valued and respected national institution it was always intended to be. I warmly commend Baroness Onora O’Neill to the Committee for this role."

I'm afraid to say that the EHRC is far from being a "valued and respected national institution". For the majority of people, it would symbolise much of what was wrong about Labour's social wrecking project.

Before examining what the EHRC does, let's consider who its "commissioners" are. This is important because one can often predict the decisions, reports, and so on, of even the most innocuous or seemingly powerless public body if you first note who sits on it.

Baroness O'Neill has a classic quangocrat's CV: St Paul's, Oxford, Harvard, now a Professor at Cambridge, former President of the British Academy, former Chair of the Nuffield Trust, and so on. Here's a selection of the EHRC's 14 other "commissioners":
  • Its deputy chair, Baroness Prosser, is a Labour peer, and former President of the TUC and Treasurer of the Labour Party
  • Kay Carberry is the current Assistant General Secretary of the TUC
  • Baroness Greengross is a cross bench peer and a member of the advisory council of the European Movement since 1992
  • Angela Mason is a Labour councillor (and cabinet member) on Camden London Borough Council and former director of Stonewall
  • Baroness Sherlock is a Labour peer and former chief executive of the National Council for One Parent Families
  • Baroness Hussein-Ece is a Lib Dem peer and former Labour councillor who once called UKIP "Nazis in suits"
  • Stephen Alambritis is a Labour councillor
  • Simon Woolley is the founder and director of Operation Black Vote
  • Ann Benyon is a Labour activist
  • Michael Smith is a former board member of Stonewall
  • Kaliani Lyle is a former chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council and "race relations officer" of Edinburgh District Council

That doesn't leave too many commissioners free of political activity. The only commissioner who doesn't look as though they have an interest in left-wing politics or the equalities industry is Sarah Anderson, who started an employment company, and authored a report into regulations on small business. It's no coincidence that she was appointed by Theresa May. So it's disappointing to see that Maria Miller passed over the opportunity to appoint a new, Conservative- (or, better still, conservative-) minded commissioner, or even private-sector-minded commissioner to the post. This approach of not appointing Conservatives is being taken by the Coalition all over government.

What's more, the commissioners appear to combine a reductive view of British society with a boneheaded view of statistics. As a result, the EHRC would have you believe that Britain is, to use that particularly pernicious phrase, "institutionally racist". In 2010, the EHRC released a report, entitled "How fair is Britain?" - itself a ludicrously subjective question. The report has many flaws, but one instructive flaw that illustrates the fundamental weakness of the organisation's logic is this paragraph:

"On average, five times more Black people than White people in England and Wales are imprisoned. Overall, the ethnic minority prison population has doubled in a decade: from 11,332 in 1998 to 22,421 in 2008 in England and Wales, although the growth of the ethnic minority prison population has been more gradual since 2005. This has caused the proportion of ethnic minority prisoners to rise to around 25% of the prison population (while they make up 11% of the population in England and Wales): there is now greater disproportionality in the number of Black people in prisons in the UK than in the United States."

But what about the crime rate? Would it not be better to examine whether the number of black people in prison is disproportionate to the amount who are arrested/convicted/etc, rather than simply the demographics of the country at large? Of course it would. But perhaps if the EHRC stopped producing sensationalist reports, the politicians would stop noticing it, and find it easier to get rid of.

The EHRC is a relic of the thinking that inspired Harriet Harman-era Labour councils to get up to their antics during the 1970s and 80s. Already, far too many public bodies are devoted to the equalities industry and to telling us how unfair Britain is. Why doesn't the Government save money, stamp on some of Labour's damaging social legacy, and stop unelected vested interests telling us how to live and what views to hold? Francis Maude should do every Conservative and fair-minded Briton a service and abolish the Equality and Human Rights Commission — now.