There’s a curiously two-faced aspect to the British take on the Commonwealth, wouldn’t you say? On the one hand, there’s justifiable contrition about the treatment of the elderly Windrush generation and a general feeling that the Commonwealth leaders assembled for this week’s summit might be justified in taking Britain to task for its cavalier approach to postwar Caribbean immigrants. On the other, when Commonwealth countries get uppity and show signs of not conforming to the social norms of this country, why, they get very short shrift indeed.
There was an ugly little interview this morning on the Today programme which expressed precisely this ambivalence. Homosexual acts are illegal in Trinidad, as in some other Commonwealth countries, so Nick Robinson interrogated one of the defenders of that law, the Anglican bishop, Victor Gill, about it. As an exercise in demonstrating Robinson’s own credentials in this important area, it was an undeniable success; as a demonstration of Establishment contempt for dissent on the question, it was pretty impressive too.
The bishop was in fact quite unequivocal about where he stands: “As a Christian”, he said, “homosexuality is something that the Bible condemns and…from perspective of Christian community…as if this is being forced on us by power brokers who are influencing our government to take us in this new direction…it’s neo-colonialism.”
Our Nick went straight for the standard BBC response, the intellectual equivalent of received pronunciation:
“Surely, Bishop, no one is asking you to change your religious views, no one is asking you to personally approve of homosexual acts; what they are saying is that the law shouldn’t persecute people”.
At a stroke, the bishop is being demoted from a representative of a Christian community and of a widely held view in the West Indies, (one, moreover, held by quite a large number of people in Britain until about 15 minutes ago), to a crackpot who wanted to impose his insane personal and Christian opinions on other people.
The bishop didn’t, in fact, go so far as to say he wanted to see the law actually implemented: “the law is a protection”, he said, “there’s no instance of it being applied”. Nick was having none of it: “Would you like to see it applied? Would you like gay people to be locked up?…It is a crime, is it, in your mind, a crime to be gay?…So you are saying that Christians can only have their views respected if gay men and women are LOCKED in PRISON for believing something that you happen not to believe?”
The bishop, who did not have the benefit of Nick’s Oxford education, responded that: “I am saying the gay agenda is being forced on us.” And as if to prove the point, Nick responds: “We’re talking about locking up innocent men and women because they have a different set of beliefs to your own.”
Our very own Voltaire, isn’t he?
You can hear the interview yourself above. But what was obvious to me was that there was indeed a clash of values here: the Establishment sort, and those of an old fashioned Christian from the West Indies who has seen what is happening in Britain and doesn’t like it much. Bishop Gill conceded that there might be concessions on the law if “given the dynamics of the time, the government could make some measures of compromise so that [gay] rights don’t infringe on Christian freedom of expression and some provision can be made so that gays do not criminalise us and litigate against us for speaking out.”
Is he completely deluded? Not really. If I can summarise his view as I understand it, it’s that he fears that if the law were repealed, it would be a short distance to the legalisation of gay marriage and the amendment of sex education in schools to the effect of there being no distinction of any kind between homosexuality and heterosexuality. And from there it would be an even shorter step to the marginalisation and persecution of those who think differently.
And in terms of what has happened in Britain, he’s not far wrong. Those who may support gay relationships but draw the line at gay marriage (a category I’d come into) are, in effect, marginalised in public life. It’s on the charge sheet against Jacob Rees-Mogg, it’s one of the boxes you have to tick in order to be in the running to be leader of the Conservative Party; it’s the black mark against David Davis; it’s the sin that people like Nicky Morgan have been required to atone for publicly and repeatedly.
As for tolerance and all that stuff, the Equality Act introduced by Harriet Harman and supported by David Cameron effectively put the adoption of children on the same basis as the provision of ordinary goods and services and thus insisted that there should be no discrimination between gay and heterosexual couples in adopting children. And so Catholic adoption services, which did an exemplary job in providing families for hard-to place children, were obliged to shut down, simply because they tended to put married heterosexual couples at the head of the queue as adopters, a stance with which most people, incidentally, would probably agree.
That’s where social liberalism ends up: intolerance of dissent, marginalisation of opponents and criminalisation of those who operate by other values. The bishop may be wrong in supporting a law against buggery as it’s known in Trinidad (and for what it’s worth, I think the law is wrong), but not, I’d say, so very wrong in worrying about what would follow repeal.
After Nick Robinson concluded his interview he observed: “these views will be shocking to many people”. Well, certainly to Nick, who then went on to bestow his approval and respect in an interview with one Linda Bauman, an LGBT campaigner from Namibia.
You wonder why Commonwealth leaders sometimes seem to feel that there’s still a touch of colonialism in the relationship between Britain and its former colonies? That little interview summed it up: we’re right and you’re retrograde: so change.