Friday, 22 July 2011


This week the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks have been running the gauntlet of the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. Our upstanding Members of Parliament (my, how short our and their memories are?) have been busy lobbing stones through the empty frames that make up what used to be their moral glass houses. Now they have all been grilled to the same extent. The MPs didn't go easy on Rupert just because he's an octogenarian. They even didn't go easy on Rebekah because she had ginger hair. Or because she was a girl. Now it's a good thing it's our non-PC MPs carrying out this investigation because left to Greater Manchester Police it may not have gone quite the same.

Nope, it appears Greater Manchester Police may well have just roasted James, but would probably have stopped short with the old fella and the girl. You see they've just had their fingers burned by the PC Police.  A couple of weeks back it was reported that Inspector Diane Bamber, 51, had taken Greater Manchester Police to an employment tribunal and won after she failed a fitness-based selection (here).

The test comprised a 500m course, wearing full riot gear and carrying a 17lb riot shield. Known as the "shield run" this is the base level fitness standard required to join a public order unit and must be completed in under 2 mins 45 secs. And she failed it. Because she's not fit enough. So she sued them. And won. Apparently she felt "humiliated" after failing the test. The tribunal ruled that she had been discriminated against because of her sex and age.

Now here is a little test to see if you've been reading my blog - what do I think about this?

a) Now that seems perfectly sensible, why would we possibly want riot police to be physically fit? As long as they're nice people, I'm sure the rioters won't go for the fat wheezy policeman who can't keep up with the rest of the riot shield wall. I imagine weak links are positively encouraged as the key to effective shield-based combat - the Romans probably had it wrong. Now I think of it, it's unfair to rule out the elderly or the infirm, they're people too. And let's get the morbidly obese in there as well. Everyone deserves a go as a riot policeman. That's what equal opportunities means.

b) Jesus Titty-Fucking Christ.

Yes, it was a toss-up, but I went with b). If you didn't you can probably stop reading here and go play with the traffic or continue interfering with an animal. Over the years it is an understatement to say there have been incredible miscarriages of justice with totally unjustified age discrimination, sexual discrimination, racial discrimination and more. We have, though, moved on and I'd say we are much of the way there. However, we are threatened with losing the good (and ongoing) work at the expense of ridiculous rulings like this where half-wits mis-interpret the law to their hearts' content and in so doing create terribly dangerous precedents.

Now you've perhaps read my thoughts on discrimination before (here, but most particularly here). In essence I think it's all about motivation - and I'm right, obviously - not about just choosing, which is all discriminating is. For example, fireman need to be strong enough to carry unconscious fat people to safety from their burning sofas after their discarded fag butts have ignited the stacked copies of NOTW forming a shrine to investigative journalism in the corner of their 13th floor apartment. Or rescue people from middle class fires. Or the Queen from whichever palace in which she currently resides.

Now some women will have failed the fireman test - or whatever slightly more official-sounding name they have for it. And some men. They will have been the people who couldn't hack it physically. And we're all the safer for the fire service that has produced - except when they're on strike for more pay. The average 7st woman is always going to find it much harder than the average 13st man to lift a 15st body or whatever the test is. Likewise the average 62 year old is going to find it harder than the average 25 year old. Fat wheezy kids will probably fail as will those with a build akin to the chap from the Mr Muscle adverts.

They aren't, however, being unfairly discriminated against. They just failed an objective test. There is a need for an objective test because you can't do the job if you can't carry a deadweight person. The unconscious victim doesn't weigh less if the fireman is over 50, or female. He or she weighs what she weighs. Some people will be more genetically predisposed to success than others, but that's life. For some things, many things in fact, maybe even most, there has to be one level for all. Equal opportunities means everyone from every 'category' (old, young, male, female, big fish, little fish, red fish, blue fish) gets the same shot at trying for a job or whatever. It does not mean we massage the test to get an equal number of everyone from every 'category' to pass.

Now Inspector Bamber doesn't want to be a fireman, but the physical levels required to join a public order unit are correctly imposed in a direct parallel. There's no humiliation in failing an assessment designed to test even the hardiest of our youths. Likewise you probably shouldn't hang your head in shame for failing selection for the SAS or the Parachute Regiment. Or not getting past youth trials at Arsenal. Or not getting the place at the top university you were after. You see they are all objective tests - are you strong enough to be a riot policeman, a good enough footballer for the Premier League, or a clever enough boffin to study astrophysics at Harvard?

Maybe not - and in all cases it will be a mixture of latent talent and hard work which decides if you make the grade. That is the wonder of objective tests - by their very definition they are neutral, non-subjective, impervious to bias or malevolent discrimination as long as the pass requirements are justified by what they are testing for. Sometimes the effort will not be enough to overcome the genetic disadvantages you start with. That may be because you are a short girl, or a thick boy, or born with the proverbial two left feet. The test takes no account of that though - only your performance. It is not shameful to fail trying. It is shameful to hide your failure, however, behind spurious lawsuits relying on the ongoing spinelessness of the judiciary when anyone whispers "discrimination" in their general direction. Especially if you're a sodding police Inspector.

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