Inside the mind of Chris Grayling

Ok, could we all stop being fabulously dumb now? Please? Since the Guardian shock-horror announcement that Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling wanted to “ban teh gayz” (or, in fact, allow B&B owners to turn away gay people from their businesses), I’ve seen even more misinformation than usual fly round the internet.

Obviously a lot of lefties have been crowing about the “same old Tories”, as you’d expect, and imagining that this so-called “secret recording” shows up Grayling as an evil homophobe as opposed to a completely clueless twat, which is what he is. In response to the lefty crowing, a lot of Tories and libertarians who really should know their facts better than this have been trying to defend Grayling’s point. Honestly, this lackwit is not worth your time, people!

First, let’s deal with those squawking that B&B owners are running their business on “private property” and that this constitutes some critical difference between a B&B and a hotel. Well, for a start, what in the name of blue buggery do you think a hotel is? “Public” property? Every single hotel in the land is private property. Who did you think owned all the hotels? The King of the Potato People? The Labour Party?

What these squawkers are really getting at is that as well as being a business, a B&B is usually somebody’s home, whereas a hotel is solely a business premises. Iain Dale has knocked that one on the head very nicely – if someone opens the doors of their house to the public as a business (and there is a perfectly well-established “badges of trade” test to determine whether they’re conducting a business or not) then they have already accepted that at least part of it is no longer just a home. If they’re conducting a trade, they’re subject to the same laws as any other trade.

To add weight to Iain’s point, the distinction between business and home in the same property is recognised with great exactness in tax law, where utility bills can be claimed as a business expense provided they are proportioned according to how many rooms of a house are used in the business. Plus, I shouldn’t think there’s a B&B in the land where the owners don’t reserve a portion of the house for their own completely private use, probably behind a lockable door. So they clearly know the difference between the home part and the business part. The distinction is perfectly real in both a legal and a physical sense, so why should it suddenly vanish in the case of anti-discrimination law?

The other point I think the squawkers are confusedly flapping around without actually expressing is the difference between a company and a sole trader. We all instinctively know that a lot of hotels (though not all) will be run as incorporated businesses, and a lot of B&Bs (though not all) will be run as sole trades. I suspect this is contributing to people’s sense that the two cases are somehow fundamentally different. Well, sorry. They’re both providing goods and services. Both are therefore subject to discrimination laws. We don’t let caterers off food hygiene regulations just because they’re practising as sole traders rather than companies.

Third point, some people are suggesting that B&B discrimination against gay people or black people is no different to B&B discrimination against groups, hen/stag parties, or people with dogs. Well, yes it is. Because there’s a law against discrimination against gay people or black people, isn’t there. If you’re arguing with the law’s very existence, that’s a different matter, but as the law stands, these objections are meaningless. Because there are no laws against discrimination against people in groups. That would be a very confusing law. Ok?

Now, there is a perfectly legitimate libertarian argument to be had about whether or not anti-discrimination law should exist at all. In a perfect world, we might say, it wouldn’t need to. Its existence represents a curtailment of some people’s liberty (in this case, Christian B&B owners) to protect the liberty of some other people (in this case, gay people). At the time the law was made, it was obviously felt that the liberty of the former group was being exercised in such a way as to cause considerable harm to the liberty of the latter group – enough harm to legislate. This is the kind of trade-off law makes all the time. We could have a very interesting discussion about whether the background has changed, whether the liberties of the two groups are quite so unevenly matched nowadays – whether, in short, the law itself is really necessary any more. If all anti-discrimination law were removed, would we really see a flood of “Sorry, no blacks or homosexual couples” notices in little window panes in the suburbs of Bournemouth and Blackpool? Enough to constitute a harm worth legislating against? Maybe not.

That is all very well. But what we cannot do is invent some legally and physically nonsensical distinction between B&Bs and hotels in order to bend the rules for a certain group of people. This is the absolute antithesis of good law, and of the principles of liberalism. Either Chris Grayling was effectively calling for a review of the entire purpose of anti-discrimination law, or he is a numpty of zero understanding. There is no middle ground (and the answer, by the way, is (b), because Grayling actually voted in favour of the current position, and there’s just no way a Conservative government is going to try to get elected on a platform of repealing the anti-discrimination laws).

And, for goodness’ sake, we knew these laws existed before, right? Why is everyone reacting as if we’ve just uncovered the most heinous, oppressive instrument of state control yet devised by man? Why all the shrieking about “slavery” and suchlike? I’ll tell you what, I’m all in favour of restoring our civil liberties, and I’m also in favour of easing regulation on small businesses, but my impression is that there are one  or two slightly more pertinent places to start those processes?  You know, just possibly?

So, what I’m saying is, it would be lovely if we stopped taking our intellectual cues from a man whose thinking on this and many other matters has all the gravityas* and subtlety of a piano on the head, thank you all so very much, and good day to you.

* Gravitas. Obviously a piano on the head has quite a lot of gravity.

18 Comments

  1. Very well put. Without being too gleeful to attack the ‘same old tories’ it does make you think doesn’t it? Grayling must clearly know and appreciate the concept of business; once you dip into the stream of business you must play by the rules set out. Unless he’s considering creating a distinction between a threshold of small businesses and larger ones (which as well as being ideologically out of line with general conservative and liberal principles, would be an absolute legal nightmare) he either made those comments to pander to the blue tory base he was with, or we should all be quite profoundly worried.

    I have to say, the rationale for this in any case is beyond absurd. Are we seriously saying that a religious christian bb owner could turn down, for example, two gay men who choose not to do anything but sleep together whilst at the same time (albeit unbeknownst to them) allow a heterosexual couple to do the most depraved and ungodly of acts just because they’re straight?

    Yes, there is always a balancing act of the liberty of holding certain value beliefs against another. But when it effectively comes down to being uncomfortable with another group who leave no material harm to your business, there can be no excuse. Grayling should be ashamed.

  2. There is a very simple way round this problem – it is for those B&B owners who are of a discriminatory mind to advertise that they ‘specialise’ in catering to specific groups such as ‘closed-minded Conservatives’ or whatever.

    To anyone who actually wants a quiet night’s rest and to escape any controversy this would be more than enough of an indication (if that’s not the wrong word) to know whether or not to avoid that establishment, in the same way as many businesses in the accomodation trade euphemistically advertise their particular appeal to ‘specialist’ audiences with a variety of preferences and facilities (ie for family groups, youth hostels, swingers, S&M groups, business clientele etc).

    How many stag parties are put up in a wedding suite? Very few I reckon, but that’s because both sides can make an informed decision: it ain’t suitable.

    The confusion in this recent case came because the owner was naive in thinking her particular specialism is a generality – she simply failed to choose whether to market her house to a general audience or her more specialist preferred segment, and assumed no potential for overlap existed.

    It was a simple mistake to make, but the clue is that’s it’s called ‘catering’, not ‘dictating’. She should be sent on a marketing and management course.

    1. Or perhaps advertise it as a service whereby the landlord takes a prurient interest in what guests do in their rooms.

      I don’t know why I thought privacy was an obvious feature of the B&B contract.

  3. For me, what’s most objectionable about this claim for an exemption from the law on grounds of ‘religious conscience’ is the presumption that such bigotry is somehow acceptable only if it’s underwritten by belief a fictional deity. In a more rational polity, without historical religious privilege, we could quite reasonably consider such grounds as an aggravating rather than mitigating factor when evaluating claims for dispensations from the law.

    1. You’re onto something there. I deplore this facile “respect” we’re supposed to show religious ideas. If they were that good I would believe in them.

      I appreciated this from the mighty Richard Dawkins, quoting the equally great Douglas Adams:

      http://newhumanist.org.uk/469/time-to-stand-up

      I can’t say I’ve ever turned my mind to anti-discrimination laws, so I wouldn’t want to weigh in here with an opinion. But when I am speaking to work colleagues etc, I am as guilty as I think a lot of us are in not challenging attitudes when they claim to be sanctified. If they just didn’t like gays rather than saying it offended their faith, would they get different treatment?

      1. “If they were that good”

        I mean if I thought they were that good. I mean I don’t see why I should defer to views I don’t hold. Hope this isn’t all getting mangled on its way out of my head.

    2. Rationalism is one thing, but it includes conscientious rationalism and dogmatic rationalism. I fear you’ve strayed towards the dogmatic end of the spectrum here, Arron.

      Democracy is underpinned by freedom of conscience, which is just the rejection of thought crimes, so it is highly perverse and illiberal to undermine democracy and end the separation of church and state on the grounds that your rationalism is better than their rationalism.

      It’s clear that your form of ‘more rational polity’ is an extremely short-sighted form of jacobinism.

      I mean, how do you suggest policing people’s thoughts and beliefs? With a guillotine?

      So this is where I refer you to the Bill of Rights of 1689 and the 1701 Act of Settlement.

      Without freedom of conscience speech will be forever chained, democracy non-existent and war constant.

  4. Yes but I am not making the distinction you are saying Grayling is attempting. The only distinction I have drawn is between goods and services that we are already contractually bound into by virtue, for example, of having paid the taxes with which they are provided – they should clearly not be allowed to discriminate – and *any* private sector business.

    I suppose I just don’t like these sort of social manipulation laws. I think they are bad in concept and potentially very much worse if it suppresses a sentiment that then becomes explosive – it might take just one, otherwise relatively small incident to spark an upsurge of pent up feeling against a particular group or class of people.

    What we really need, I think, is to bring people up to have self-confidence and to have a spine and to genuinely understand that “sticks and stones may hut my bones, but words are merely an expression of an opinion” 🙂

    I find it faintly disturbing too that liberals are defending the suppression of opinion and expression in such a way. We should have more confidence in Mill that allowing such opinions a voice we are better able to show them up for the idiocy they are.

    That, and I say again, my right to know that the person with whom I am about to do business or for whom I am about to work would rather I was in a special part of hell with a personal devil massaging my colon with molten sulphur for lube, and therefore to choose not to give them any of my hard earned money or my skills is ignored here also.

    1. “Yes but I am not making the distinction you are saying Grayling is attempting. ”

      No, I agree you’re not in that post. I did have the impression from tweets at one point that you were making that distinction, but I’m sorry if I was mistaken. You’re making the argument I say can legitimately be made, that these laws shouldn’t exist at all, which is fair enough. By the same token, I’m not defending the suppression of opinion. The anti-discrimination laws are, I would submit, far from the most insidious threat to liberty on the statute book, and to that extent I am sceptical of all the sudden hoo-ha about them (most of which will be politically motivated), but I’m agnostic on their future.

    2. “I find it faintly disturbing too that liberals are defending the suppression of opinion and expression in such a way.”
      Saying you can’t discriminate in providing a service isn’t the same as preventing people from expressing their opinion about whether they should have to provide a service. In this part of your argument you’re attacking anti-discrimination law for something it simply doesn’t do.

      “my right to know that the person with whom I am about to do business or for whom I am about to work would rather I was in a special part of hell”
      Sorry – what right? You don’t really have any right to know what anyone is thinking, and I don’t suppose you really imagine you do.

      If you go to a B&B, there is nothing in law to stop the owner telling you that they believe your sexuality condemns you to hell even as s/he takes your money, and nothing that stops you from deciding therefore not to hand the money over. But you don’t have any right to insist on knowing the owner’s beliefs on the matter before deciding whether to do business with them.

    3. “Yes but I am not making the distinction you are saying Grayling is attempting.”

      Typical libertarian, thinking the world revolves round him.

      And why are you banging on about suppression of free speech? What does that have to do with employment laws?

      “I think they are bad in concept and potentially very much worse if it suppresses a sentiment that then becomes explosive – it might take just one, otherwise relatively small incident to spark an upsurge of pent up feeling against a particular group or class of people.”

      We’ve had these sorts of laws for 40+ years. Got any examples?

      It’s awfully pleasant for the Road to Serfdom, don’t you think?

      1. On a point of info. I’d already had a brief exchange of Twitter fire with Jock on t’subject before I wrote the post, so it’s fair enough for him to think he was one of the people (though he certainly wasn’t the only one) I had in mind.

  5. I think it is a good point that Grayling’s remarks could be attributed to either homophobia or libertarianism, and therefore he is not necessarily prima facie guilty of homophobia.

    He would be more convincing if he were more consistently libertarian, as you say, but he isn’t.

    And yet isn’t Conservatism in large part a kind of libertarianism for “us” and authoritarianism for “them”. In which case could he be guilty of merely the inherent double standards of Conservatism, rather than homophobia? It’s a thought, but of course not an excuse.

  6. Now, there is a perfectly legitimate libertarian argument to be had about whether or not anti-discrimination law should exist at all. In a perfect world, we might say, it wouldn’t need to.

    Indeed. Personally, whilst I accept your argument that in the past there was a demand to safeguard the rights of a small group of people who might have been oppressed by a larger one, I reckon we can probably let the market decide now. I mean how many people would want to stay in a B&B that proudly proclaimed ‘No Blacks’? (and, frankly, how many of said people would you want staying in your B&B? It could provide a valuable filtering service.)

    But on a wider point, it really annoys me that it’s now seen as both fashionable and desirable to be part of an oppressed minority. So the first response of christians being told that they can’t discriminate against gays isn’t “but the bible says they’re evil and are going to hell” (which isn’t a very good argument, but is presumably their actual rationale) but “no, you’re oppressing us. It’s not fair“. Of course, what with the christian church being rather traditionally powerful and owning all of those huge pointy buildings, people tend to snigger a bit when they say that, but it hasn’t stopped other religions from trying to deploy that strategy to defend some of their more unacceptable beliefs, and some of them are minorities.

    we knew these laws existed before, right? Why is everyone reacting as if we’ve just uncovered the most heinous, oppressive instrument of state control yet devised by man?

    In fairness to the legislators, the House of Lords was full of people raising precisely these objections when the laws were being debated, many of them in quite inflamatory (for the Lords) language. It’s just that no one paid any attention or cared.

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