There's a line in a silly pop song I like: We are all made of stars. I like to hold it quite close to the front of my mind because, while it is just a line in a silly pop song, it's also, I think, quite an important truth. We are all made of stars. I think that we exaggerate the biological and psychological differences between us; that the miracle of humanity is that our eyes and hearts can, in fact, find and love the beauty in our variety, a variety that must dwell in the very, very small gaps between the vast quantity of similarities we all share.
So, this week: the wretched case over a B&B in Cornwall; Baroness Warsi's view of dinner party conversations about Islam; football commentators being caught discussing the sporting and aesthetic merits of a female linesman (linesperson? One of my many gaps is knowledge of football. I'd never have got anywhere in the Labour party, would I?). All capable of being treated as 'political' items; but not, I think, in a useful way. Because politics requires that we force dichotomies onto a reality that has a higher dimension than 'two'. I can neither find it in my heart to be pleased that the Bulls lost their case, nor to feel a desire to march in the street on their behalf. I could list a host of topics about the experience of being white and gay in an increasingly Islamified part of East London for Baroness Warsi to chew over at her own next dinner party, but I can also see in the faces of my neighbours that we've got more in common than may divide us. As to the football commentators: those weren't remarks that I'd ever make; but they weren't made for broadcast, and in any case to pretend that football doesn't have a masculine identity – or to insist that such constructs can never play a useful role in society – strikes me as absurd.
Let me quickly list the contradictions which arise from seeking political solutions ('political' as in Enact the following law, and the underlying problem will evaporate) to any of these issues.
The B&B case. So we have now proven that a quango can criminalise bed and breakfast owners who don't want gay people to stay in their property (please, no quibbling about the exact form of words the Bulls would use: this is what it boils down to). I'm in the target identity bucket which the Left courts with such legislation (and you're in the opposite bucket if your religion leads you to prefer us not to stay). Whose life is better as a result? Obviously not religious bed and breakfast owners. But is mine? No of course it isn't. I'd rather sleep in a ditch than spend a night in the home of people who dislike me. All the case has done is to harden the identities of both Christians and gay people and forced onto both of us an armour which I, for one, would prefer not to be encumbered with. I detest the legislation that was used against the Bulls: but now, in the backs of the minds of the majority of my fellow citizens, is the germ of an idea that all gay people are hell-bent on transforming every public and private sphere into our image. Quite what the impact of the law will be on those bouncers who stand outside the night club on Marine Parade in Brighton, and ask potential entrants: Do you know this is a gay venue? will be, I'm not sure. Presumably it will have to stop, and young gay Brightonians will just have to put up with sharing their space with people who hate them. We had a system of unwritten rules, and they worked. Now we have case law that forces people to take sides and stop using their common sense. I cannot call this 'progress'.
Baroness Warsi's concerns over a rise in Islamophobia. I'm certainly not going to presume to tell the Baroness she doesn't know what she's talking about – I've seen her in action, at close quarters, and she's both self-evidently a warm and decent being, and also someone who knows what it's like to grow up as part of an immigrant community. I, of course, do not. But I do know what it's like to spend over ten years living in an area that has become less and less anglo-fied, and I'm a little – just a little – tired of being half-threatened with legal sanction if I so much as remark on it. Whether Muslims like it or not, we must be permitted to discuss what happens to a borough when it becomes mostly Muslim, and we must be able to say, for example, I do not like to see women wearing burquas without being labelled intolerant. It is not Islamophobic to notice and regret the posters on Bethnal Green bus-stops which variously attack Christmas as evil and urge Muslims to Not Vote In The Infidel's Election; and to wonder – of course I wonder – how many of my neighbours share such views. I suspect not many. Well, I hope not many, though the various opinion surveys of young Muslim youth do not always make comfortable reading. The gap between Muslim and non-Muslim will not be breached by seeking to close down topics of conversation as off-limits: the outcome of such an approach is too obvious to be worth typing. The irony is that our party in East London has started to show how to overcome the gaps: by holding the open primary to select our PPC in Bethnal Green at the last election, we demonstrated, without any patronising labels, that we are all in this together. Together we tackle our common problems.
The football commentators face a predictable outcome: they will be forced to issue a grovelling apology, and then they'll be sacked. Of course they ought to apologise to the lineswoman involved; their comments were rude and uncalled-for. But the apology that is in truth being demanded is to the altar of the new norm; that men must not be permitted to speak in an un-feminised space. Men, in private, have been known to discuss the sexual merits of women, and may disparage their ability to play football. The only difference between this behaviour, and that of women, is that women broadcast their prejudice about men every day at lunchtime on ITV1, and in almost every advert that has ever been made. Men and woman are not that different as biological entities, you know, despite the best efforts of the 'Mars/Venus' industry, and we really ought to grow up about the fact that sometimes each gender wants to spend some time with its own company and say silly things about the other. We used to call this 'letting off steam'; now it's a criminal act.
Religion vs sexuality; Muslim vs non-Muslim; men vs women: three cases that highlight the outcome of an adherence to the Left's politics of identity. In no case has the application of a law increased human happiness. Identity politics, indeed, lead not to greater understanding of common problems, but to greater distance between the groups 'protected' by the laws. Identity politics leads, inexorably, to 'vs': Us vs Them. To coin a phrase: what we need a bit more of is the Politics Of And. Religious and sexual tolerance. Muslim and non-Muslim. Men and women. The fewer laws we have that are predicated on 'versus', the more chance we have of 'and'. This isn't a call for insipid nothingness: just a request that parliament makes legislation to fix problems (in health systems, in education and so on) rather than to tell us how to think and interact with one another. We're human beings. We are all made of stars. We don't need laws to tell us how to speak to our neighbours.
Post-script. I wrote the previous sections on Tuesday morning and for one reason or another didn't get around to asking that it be put up until much later in the day (by which time Andy Gray had been sacked). On Tuesday evening I read another story, about a squash club in Camden that has received a taxpayer grant of thousands of pounds to expand access to the lesbian 'community'. What on earth are these people thinking? Is there some sort of Twilight Zone plot afoot to make gay people look ridiculous? People everywhere are losing their jobs, but a quango thinks a good use of our money is to establish squash as a game that requires separation between players of differing sexual identities? It's worth quoting the admiring words of Terry Stacy, leader of the Lib Dem group on Islington council:
We’ve had women-only sports clubs, Muslim women’s swimming groups, and girls’ tennis – I don’t have a problem with targeted provision if there’s a gap in the participation.