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Andrew Lilico

Andrew Lilico: Boris and TfL lose their marbles - is it okay, now, to refuse to provide services because one disagrees with what is done with them?

I am a fan of freedom of contract.  I believe it should be legal to refuse to provide services because one disagrees with what is done with them.  For example, if I own an electronic goods shop and you come in, studying one of my cameras, and say you are after one that will bring out the colour of areolae quite clearly even when transferred onto news print, I think I should be able to refuse to sell you a camera on the grounds that I don't agree with what you are going to do with it.  Or if I were a hotelier I think I should be able to refuse to provide a double bed to a couple I did not regard as married.  Or if I provide adoption services I should be able to provide them only for couples whose relationships I considered moral.  Or, again, if as a private company we provide advertising space I think we should be able to refuse to run an advert we disagreed with.

That's one way to run a society - rather a good one, in my view.  Here's another way to run a society.  We say that if you provide a service, you have to provide it to anyone that can pay for it and isn't going to do anything illegal with it.  That's not as good as the first way, but it at least has the virtue of consistency, of legal impartiality, of "indifference", as the Book of Common Prayer used to put it.

Here's another way society could be organised.  We say that people are permitted to refuse service when what will be done with it is something we disapprove of, but not so permitted when what will be done is something we approve of.  So, to pluck an example from the air, we could say that it would be illegal to forbid a gay rights campaigning organisation to run a series of bus adverts telling Londoners "Some people are gay.  Get over it!" on the grounds that one disagreed with the message, but perfectly legal to forbid another organisation (or, say, Anglican Mainstream and Core Issues Trust) from running a right-to-reply series of adverts telling Londoners "Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and pround. Get over it!".

Now in my view each of these is a completely pointless slogan.  I've suggested #otherpointlessslogans: "Some people don't believe men landed on the moon - get over it!" "Some people don't agree with 'marriage equality' - get over it!"  "Some people are socialists - get over it!" "Some people smack their children - get over it!"  I was eager to mock Anglican Mainstream and Core Issues Trust.

But, lo! Boris Johnson and TfL appear to have completely lost their marbles and have refused to run the "post-gay" adverts. It appears they don't approve of the "post-gay" message.  Instantly they transformed what would have been the subject of ribald mockery into a brave stand for free speech!  Madness.

Imagine the furore, the legal cases, the newspaper column inches if TfL had refused to run the original Stonewall adverts.  We would have been told that to do so clearly violated equalities legislation.  But it seems to be perfectly okay for them to refuse to run adverts the other way.  What next?  Will we have Boris instructing TfL to run pro-Boris2012 posters but forbidding all Ken2012 posters on the grounds that Boris doesn't agree with them?  Is that how things work in this country now?

As I say, I think it should be perfectly permissible for private organisations to forbid to provide services for uses they don't agree with.  The same should not apply to publicly owned bodies.  Transport for London is such a public body.  The services of public bodies surely ought to be provided on a non-discriminating basis - before the state, all of us should stand equal.  Transport for London shouldn't be able to refuse to take you on a bus to visit your mistress or to attend a Communist party meeting.  That's nothing to do with equalities legislation.  That's just good old fashioned equality before the state.

Instead, we apparently now have a situation in which private citizens are forbidden from discriminating in the provision of services according to their consciences (eg it is illegal to refuse to provide a double bed for a homosexual couple) but the state is permitted to refuse to provide services to those disapproved of by politicians.

Is this how a liberal and tolerant society is really supposed to work?


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