When Tony Blair and his small band of ‘New’ Labour modernisers swept into power in 1997 they had all sorts of wild and wonderful plans for Britain. In one area though, Tone and the Gang were decidedly conservative in their promises. Despite all the pledges to ‘modernise’ Britain, our democracy was still going to contain an outdated and illogical second chamber. The ‘modernisation’ of the House of Lords was simply going to remove the rights of hereditary Peers. That was it. All the rest of the stuff on the House of Lords was the usual Blairite flim-flam about having a wide-ranging review of possible further change.
And so it came to pass, that 12 years later, an attempt to introduce measures to prevent the Church discriminating against gay and transsexual people in employment floundered in the wake of opposition from the Christian Taliban and old duffers appointed on the basis of political patronage and grace and favour appointments.
With no hint of irony, John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York was able to tell the assembled Peers that although the population may think the Church was barking mad in it’s Victorian attitudes on sexuality….
“But, if religious freedom means anything it must mean that those are matters for the churches and other religious organisations to determine for themselves in accordance with their own convictions.”
What Sentamu was telling them was, we should be allowed to discriminate if we want to…. because discrimination is at the heart of our beliefs. I suspect his attitude might have been distinctly different if the discrimination took the form of blokes with sheets over their heads placing fiery crosses on the lawn outside his cathedral. I await Sentamu’s defence of the BNP’s racism on the grounds that they should have the right to discriminate because racism is “in accordance with their convictions, is central to their beliefs and they really, genuinely believe it in a heartfelt way.”