WHEN the veteran Sky News presenter Adam Boulton reported that Diane Abbott had stood in for Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Question’s in the House of Commons, he went on to say that she was the first black woman to have been in that position at PMQs.
Why was it necessary to point that out? Surely she was at the dispatch box not because she was black or because she was a woman, but simply on merit given her position in the Labour Party and being on the front bench?
As a society, we are never going to get beyond the issues of ethnicity or gender if we continue to highlight them in that way.
Some years ago my parish was successful in bidding for Lottery funding to carry out extensive renovation work on the church’s pipe organ. This we gratefully accepted and carried out the work accordingly.
Sometime later I received a questionnaire part of which included a request for statistics on the number of different ethnic groups who worshipped at my church, and therefore benefited from the work that had been carried out.
On principle I refused to answer their questions, but it was none of their concern. The reason the grant was given had nothing to do with the ethnicity of my parishioners. Their motivation was basically driven by political correctness and I have no time for that.
Just last week I received an email from a Teesside church organisation supposedly wanting to survey general church-going and attendance across the community. Yet again questions were asked regarding the percentage of various ethnic groups attending my church services. At that point, I stopped answering their questions and deleted the survey from my laptop.
I don’t care what ethnic background the people in my church may be, nor their gender, my only interest is in people being in church in the first place, and they are welcome regardless of those other factors.
But why do such questions continue to be asked in this day and age? They serve only to keep highlighting difference and, by definition, that can only be divisive rather than unifying.
There is a growing wave of political correctness out of which comes the call for more women and ethnic minorities to be appointed as CEOs and directors and managers and so on – and all well and good as long as it is on merit.
It is clearly a nonsense to hire unqualified people simply to satisfy quotas. The other thing is if you hire people solely on the grounds of ethnicity or gender, and then find it necessary to fire them because they can’t do the job, then that too becomes an issue of ethnicity and gender and it never ends well. People should be hired or appointed, or for that matter elected, purely on the basis of qualifications experience and ability.
If I’m getting on a plane, I don’t care what colour or gender the pilot is, all I am concerned about is that he or she is qualified to fly this particular plane and is on the flight deck solely for that reason.
The same would be true, though possibly to a lesser extent not being quite so life-threatening, of politicians placed in charge of ministries or other aspects of national security or welfare. No one should be so appointed simply on the grounds of political correctness (which would actually be incorrectness in this case) because their incompetence will soon be found out – hopefully sooner rather than later before they can do too much damage.
Surely it would be better for someone – again regardless of ethnicity or gender – to prove their ability by working their up through the ranks, than demonstrating their incompetence and possibly damaging any hope of future success by being put in a position for which they are patently unqualified. But to achieve that we have to stop highlighting ethnicity and gender, stop constantly pointing to difference and, instead, see people simply as people.
And so back to Ms Abbott. It would have been nice if she had simply been seen as a member of Labour’s front bench standing in for Jeremy Corbyn – he was absent because Prime Minister Boris Johnson was speaking at the Tory conference – and not doing so as a black woman.
Her ability and her right to do so should have been solely a matter of qualification and politics and nothing to do with her ethnicity or gender. On the other hand, if Ms Abbott saw herself as standing at the dispatch box as a black woman then sadly she wasn’t helping the cause.
Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Yarm.