The saloon-bar bores give quangos some sober thought

Without self-righteous bodies like the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights which tell us how to best live our lives, who would keep our spirits up?

Without self-righteous bodies like the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights which tell us how to best live our lives, who would keep our spirits up?

We of the saloon bar tendency, who are given to interspersing our inpouring of gin and tonic with an outpouring of verbal felicity, have long rejoiced in the mythological figure of the one-legged, black lesbian octogenarian. For in her we have the risible, all-purpose, portmanteau customer of the client state.

Just as the restaurateur rubs his hands in excited anticipation as his threshold is crossed by a very fat man licking his lips and rubbing his belly, so the council social worker’s heart leaps when the aged black lesbian hoves, or rather hops, into view. For upon her slender, spavined frame he can heap the burden of outreach classes, counselling, multi-lingual pamphlets and, most importantly, advice on whom to sue for having given offence.

Though we of the saloon bar tendency are no friends of this Government, it would be uncharacteristically churlish to withhold our appreciation for the new opportunity provided to furnish our side-splitting asides. Reflecting our delight in the tinted, mono-ped lesbian of advancing years, HM Government has created a huge, one-stop shop to minister to her every whim. The new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) is a super-quango, which will bring under one roof the responsibilities currently held by the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Disability Rights Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality. It will be able to launch its own investigations and compel individuals to give evidence, and it will be given unprecedented powers to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief. It will, in short, be both a supermarket for supplicants and a temple to political correctness.

For us, safely sequestered in the saloon bar, where smoking is to be banned but free speech retains a perilous hold on legality (provided no one of the victim tendency overhears and reports back to the thought police), the CEHR will provide food for thought and fodder for jest.

Happily, it is already providing welcome lolly for a segment of the marketing industry. Last week, expensive ads appeared in the recruitment pages of the national press inviting applications for the post of chair of the new mega-quango. The headline ran “Justice, Equality and Fairness…”. It went on to explain that the new body represents a “major step” towards a utopia in which goodness, beneficence, honey and manna will be freely available to all. As chair, it went on, you will be charged with supplying the sunlight that shall fill every heart and ladling the joy to each according to his needs. Actually, it said, “You will relish the challenge of developing a vision for and leading a new organisation that will break new ground by working to ensure that all citizens can enjoy freedom from prejudice and discrimination and participate fully in our richly diverse society”. But you get the picture: this is to be a Commission for Peace Happiness Truth and Beauty – “salary highly competitive”. Competitive with what? you may ask, since there is to be no competition. The sole purpose of the new body is to create a monopoly. With deference to Adam Smith and the virtues of the market, we don’t want two commissions competing with each other to produce heaven on earth. That would be a waste of resources.

Come to think of it, this is an opportunity lost. At the last count, the UK had 529 quangos including the British Potato Council, the Milk Development Council, the Energy Savings Trust, the Agricultural Wages Committees, the Wine Standards Board, the Lesbian Homogenisation Board, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the Football Licensing Authority, one of which I made up but none of which would be missed were it to evaporate overnight, leaving behind nothing but the ghostly imprint of buttocks on plush chairs.

But suppose all these bodies were to be combined into one stupendous quango with sole responsibility for providing jobs for itself. Think of the muddle and complexity, the meddling, graft, corruption, and palm-greasing, all under one roof. That surely is a dream worth grasping. Who could preside over such a body? It would have to be someone special, someone steeped in the public service ethos, and it goes without saying someone female, since women, and women alone, excel at multi-tasking. Ask any feminist.

But who? Lady Howe? Baroness Warnock? Polly Toynbee? Tessa Jowell? All excellent and each knowing what is good for the rest of us. No need, however, to advertise the post. One candidate stands head and shoulders above all the rest. Step forward Patricia Hewitt. Tall, bespectacled and consummately patronising, she speaks to the nation in the tones of a dedicated, infinitely patient and, let’s be honest, sainted potty trainer. We saloon bar bores love her to bits.

Iain Murray

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