Christina Patterson: When equality means giving in to extremists

The trouble with miscellaneous job-lots is that they tend to be rather messy. Like the conveyor-belt of consumables in that apogee of Seventies super-camp, The Generation Game, you find kitchen knives nestling against pink fluffy toys, and the spiked forks of a fondue set next to a Teasmade. And so it is with quangos.

Take the Equality and Human Rights Commission. An amalgam, since 1 October, of the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission, it aims to “eliminate discrimination”, “reduce inequality” and “champion equality and human rights for all”.

In the absence of David Cameron’s (alleged) one-legged Lithuanian lesbians, this means balancing the interests of all sorts of groups. Sharia-seeking Muslims, for example, with that long-established oppressed minority (51.4 per cent of the population, actually) known as women. (Yes, here we don’t yet believe in killing or aborting babies on grounds of gender, which is marvellous.)

But, as Nat King Cole so memorably intimated, there may be trouble ahead. The appointment by Trevor Phillips, the commission’s chairman (naughty, naughty), of an evangelical Christian leader as a leading light in the battle for universal justice might just set the cat among the (physically, mentally or genderly challenged) pigeons. For the Rev Joel Edwards, the general director of the Evangelical Alliance, has been a vocal campaigner against legislation banning discrimination against gay men and women. Christians, he has said, do not want to find themselves “coerced” by law into aiding the promotion of homosexuality.

One of his “primary responsibilities”, he added, would be to ensure that “important issues such as respect and tolerance” played “an effective role” in the commission. Indeed. Respect and tolerance for the views of hard line, anti-gay evangelicals, or bikini-banning, burkha-brandishing Muslim clerics, or for the men and women who simply want to be free to acknowledge that they love who they love?

I have been an evangelical Christian. I saw the light, thank God. In that tortured period before I did, when a riotous, multi-prismed world was drained of all colour and shrunk and squeezed into a tiny box, like an early television set in the dainty front room of a 1950s family, I learnt all about homosexuality. To sum up, God hated it. Sodom and Gomorrah was not a metaphor. If people had these “feelings” then they must control them.

Luckily, however, God heals. He healed a homosexual (nothing gay about sin) in my congregation and an ageing spinster snapped him up. For a while, I helped, too. On Friday nights, I would roam the gay pubs of Earl’s Court and tell the leather-clad, moustachioed masses about Jesus. Yes, really.

For all kinds of historical reasons – not that dissimilar to those which drive young men into jihadism – the so-called “black community” is, to use the jargon, “over-represented” in evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Their members may not be threatening a violent war on Western decadence, but you can see why Trevor Phillips might want them on board. And I have no doubt that Mr Edwards, a former probation officer, is as good a spokesperson as any.

But, but, but. I have a dream. That one day our national institutions – Crown (if it’s still limping on), Government, universities and schools – will not only be secular but free not to pander to the views of nutters. Baby, as the Queen didn’t say when opening Parliament this week, dream on.

Clash of the Teutonic titans

All art, said John Ruskin, aspires to the condition of music. He didn’t add that life sometimes does, too. Most notably, perhaps, in the Wagner clan, which is currently locked in a dynastic struggle on a truly Wagnerian scale.

In the real-life version, the Rheinmaidens are no longer happy to share the Ring but are locked in an epic struggle to grab it. Katharina, the daughter of the current director of the Bayreuth Music Festival, Wolfgang Wagner, is the anointed heir, but the Richard Wagner Foundation favours Wolfgang’s eldest daughter, Eva, or his niece, Nike. It can only end in trouble – or perhaps, like Brunnehilde, pinioned to a mountain top, surrounded by fire.

* My grandmother used to send my mother a pound note, with the charming suggestion that she might like to get my father “a nice steak”. My aunt, who has three sons, used to send me flowery nylon knickers. The rest of us get by with bubble bath, socks and the Big Fat Book For Babyish Boys or Gullible Girls.

As part of a new Campaign for Decent Christmas Presents, Dame Helen Mirren has launched an appeal on behalf of the “millions of people who suffer every year from receiving rubbish presents”, urging them to splash out instead on fertiliser, medicines and school books. For people who need them, of course. It’s a worthy idea, and one that a friend already honours by buying his friends and family assorted goats and cows. I can’t, however, help clinging to the idea that charity is something you choose for yourself. And anyway, there’s one gift which nearly always brings delight – 75 years old next week. A portal to a virtual world.Yes, it’s called a book token.

* © The Independent

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