Boris Johnson provoked both glee and outrage when he wrote, in his regular Telegraph column, that the next Director General of the BBC should be a Tory. "Imagine", opined Alastair Campbell "if we had said what Boris said". The difference, of course, is that a Labour politician would never say it. They just did it.
If the Conservative Party is to accomplish more than deficit reduction (no mean feat in itself, I acknowledge) then we will have to become less squeamish about shaping the institutions that shape the culture of this country. As the great Roger Scruton pointed out, in a recent ConservativeHome piece, whatever their other inadequacies the Labour party proved hugely effective at molding the shadow state in their own image. Quangos, Non-Ministerial Government Departments, regulators and charities were created and were stuffed, during Labour's 13 years in power, with the friends and functionaries of liberal leftism. Often these people were competent at their jobs, sometimes they absolutely were not. But all of them, to a man, possessed a qualification more vital than mere expertise; they were dependable in their determination to fashion a Britain more like Islington.
The truth is that many of these fine folk remain. They were not culled when Labour lost its stranglehold but rather left in place to continue their 'good works'. The real legacy of Labour is a quiet, backroom infrastructure; as powerful and as committed as ever. Unless we are to truly set light to a 'bonfire of the quangos' (a task for which it seems we have little real appetite) the Conservative Party must begin the work of dismantling the ideological scaffolding that holds up the British state and replacing it - rung by rung - with our own. Which leads us to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. In a few months time, the EHRC will lose its Chair.
The truth is that the incumbent, Trevor Phillips, didn't work out quite as Labour hoped. He has, in fact, been a rare example of an appointee who neglected to follow the script. Trevor has defended the right of Jeremy Clarkson to offend Mexicans, he's criticised Labour's patronising and collectivised treatment of minority groups and, just this weekend, he has described those who refuse to engage with the racial and cultural aspects of the Rochdale grooming case as 'fatuous'. The truth is that Trevor's real battles have been with the metro-liberal left - he has taken on, and beaten, both Harriet Harman and Ken Livingstone in his time.
But the opportunity provided by Trevor's departure is for a genuinely conservative Chair of the EHRC. And where better for the Conservative Party to begin our "long march through the institutions" - to turn a revolutionary phrase to a conservative cause - than the EHRC?
It's not simply that a vacancy is arising. The EHRC has a remit that reaches from regulation - they bring prosecutions against those deemed to breach our equality laws - to advocacy - the Commission also champions the importance of equality in British society. It possesses enormous power to shape the culture of Britain - and it will continue to do so, even with its remit and its resources cut. And the landscape over which the EHRC exercises its competence is one where conservatism has for some time been flailing. The EHRC has - unfortunately and surely not intentionally - helped to make the peaceful co-existence of the orthodox and the liberal more and more fractious in our society.
By appearing to privilege the rights and the feelings of sexual and ethnic minorities over our Christian heritage, the consciences of the faithful or principles such as freedom of expression, the EHRC has contributed to an atmosphere of cultural conflict. The closure of Catholic adoption agencies - precipitated by the EHRC backing for a 'no-exceptions' approach to gay adoption - is arguably the single biggest driver of opposition to gay civil marriage in this country. It is this kind of over-mighty zeal that has, ironically, fomented a deep resentment at even the phrase "human rights" amongst many.
For this reason, the EHRC's next Chair must be a conservative - if not by partisan allegiance then certainly by cultural instinct. Only a conservative can begin to unpick the damage done to a once harmonious and tolerant society and only a conservative can begin to rebalance the equalities agenda to ensure it takes account of diversity in its holistic sense.
So here's my nomination - I think the next Chair of the EHRC should be Daily Mail columnist and Moral Maze judge Melanie Phillips. Ms. Phillips is a woman who - through her writing and her broadcasting - is used to publicly weighing complex, difficult and distressing moral questions. She holds a fierce and trenchant sense of right and wrong, a respect for faith but also a direct and uncompromising acceptance of the right of individuals to live their lives (within limits) in the manner of their choosing. In a long career in journalism (the pre-EHRC career of Trevor Phillips too), Melanie Phillips has fought crusades against every indecency going, from forced virginity tests on women arriving in Britain to marry, to the persecution of Christians and homosexuals in the Middle East.
She is a woman not easily swayed by sudden moral panics - drawing instead upon a deep respect for tradition and for human dignity. What's more, as a working mother and wife, Ms. Phillips represents the generation of women for whom equality has been a lived reality. She is, in short, the ideal conservative candidate.
I may well not get my wish. There's no doubt that such a bold appointment would be met with even more outrage than was Boris' call for a Tory DG at the BBC. But whomever the next Chair of the EHRC is, they must surely be someone upon whom we can rely - whatever else may happen - to carry out the quiet, vital work of reshaping Britain in a more conservative image.
Without a change to the personnel of the shadow state all of the politics and all of the policies will be in vain. They will crumble upon contact with Labour's abiding power base in the Quangocracy. It's time for our own long march through the institutions - starting with the EHRC.
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