News broke earlier this week that companies bidding for government work contracts face possible rejection if they fail to employ enough black and Asian people. A committee, which includes 7 government ministers, has made proposals requiring businesses to provide the racial profile of their workforce compared to the racial profile of the area in which the business is situated. So far three pilot schemes have been authorised, and it is note-worthy that this is the first time that “positive vetting” has been approved by a British Government. Apparently such measures are required in order to improve the employment of ethnic minorities who are, allegedly, twice as likely to be unemployed as a white person.

I’m always uneasy when I hear phrases like “positive vetting” or “affirmative action.” My own definition of such terms is: “keeping the most skilled people out of a job to promote a person of lesser ability because of sex or race.” Affirmative action hinders the employment market and tends, in most places where it has been used, to discriminate against white people and men.

Some of the claims by proponents of this policy have been downright bizarre, even mindless. And what is worrying is that they can’t even be honest about the policy. In support of the policy Mr Keith Vaz, MP, stated that: “This is not about quotas, but about encouraging employers to recognise the impact their employment policies can have on a local community.” I feel sorry for Mr Vaz for being so stupid, but to be honest I feel more sorry for myself for having to listen to him. This is not about quotas? Obviously Mr Vaz doesn’t use the same dictionaries that I do. Seemingly he doesn’t even have enough wit to qualify as a half-wit. Ian Barr, an ex-member of the Commission for Racial Equality also claimed that: “This is not about positive discrimination and quotas. This is about using the talent that is currently under-utilised and providing equality of opportunity to succeed.” It’s not about positive discrimination? You mean you’re NOT actually trying to get more blacks and Asians employed? You don’t think that companies seeking lucrative contracts won’t ensure that they have their correct quota of blacks and Asians? Good God, if this guy was any less intelligent we’d have to water him twice a day. Perhaps if we grasp his ears and pull really hard we might just assist him in getting his head out of his arsehole. There is absolutely nothing in the policy about equality of opportunity. Moreover, if the policy is only intended to “assist” employers then employers could hardly raise objection to it, could they? But, of course, employers have been raising objections to this. They know what’s good for them and what isn’t. They know unjustified government interference when they see it. They tend to be intelligent and rational people, and thus fully understand that this policy is indeed about positive discrimination and quotas. These guys would be taken much more seriously if they were honest about their intentions and desires. As it is they really shouldn’t say things like this – it just makes them look stupid. If fact, perhaps they shouldn’t say anything – it just makes them look stupid.

Mr Iqbal Wahhab, the chairman of the ‘Ethnic Minority Employment Task Force,’ the government-backed think-tank with delusions of competence which is responsible for these proposals, said: “These new procurement policies are required to assist employers in making more enlightened recruitment decisions…It may be unpopular in certain quarters, but the fact remains that we should not have been in this kind of position in the first place…this is possibly the only way to get a substantial reduction in ethnic unemployment.”

Phew…with a head so full of bullshit Mr Wahhab‘s eyes must be brown. The first thing that amazes me is that Mr Wahhab patronisingly thinks businesses need assistance from insidious little busy-bodies like him to make more “enlightened” business decisions. It isn’t the job of government to ensure that companies make more enlightened decisions, whether that be about recruitment, suppliers, marketing, or where to hold the office Christmas party. Business owners want to make money. In order to make money a rational business owner will employ the best people for the job at hand so as to maximise profits and efficiency. Businesses don’t need government quangos to prod them into doing what is in their best interests.

And what’s telling is that Mr Wahhab puts more value on getting a reduction in the unemployment rate among ethnic minorities than he does on business freedom, the concept of privacy and non-government interference, and meritocracy. Of course, he does admit that this policy might not be popular (fucking genius, isn’t he? Or perhaps just half-genius: an IQ of 75). What has Mr Wahhab been smoking, you might ask. The reasons why this sort of policy is a bad idea are bountiful. There are practical and objections as well as objections in principle.

For a start this sort of policy would be highly expensive to run. The bureaucracy involved in applying for government contracts is already a minefield. And once companies jump through the many governmental hoops there will be no guarantee that the company offering the most competitive bid will actually win, and thus it’s hardly the best use of tax-payers money. It pisses me off that the government takes my money in the first place. The least I should expect in return is that that money is spent as carefully and efficiently as possible. Under this policy some of the best firms might not even bother making a bid.

Even more note-worthy is the fact that in modern day multi-cultural Britain many people simply don’t fit into simple racial categories. Some people might be ¼ Bangladeshi, ½ African and ¼ white. And even if we could categorise people there could be perfectly justifiable reasons why the ethnic make-up of a company doesn‘t match that of the local community. A firm employing plumbers, electricians or building site workers will quite likely have very few Japanese women on their books. This has nothing to do with discrimination, and everything to do with the lack of female Japanese plumbers around. Plus, there will be some areas where ethnic minorities are “over-represented,” but no complaint from Mr Wahhab or others of his ilk. It seems that white people can’t be discriminated against.

Not only does positive discrimination take the merit out of meritocracy, it just doesn’t work. What such policies tend to do is alienate the minority groups they purport to help, whilst causing deep resent in the white community. In the show ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Larry David jested that he didn’t trust a black doctor’s opinion because of “the whole affirmative action thing.” A joke with a jab indeed. Here in Northern Ireland there is a “50-50” recruitment policy for our police force. In other words recruitment programmes must take on 50% Roman Catholics and 50% Other (Protestants and everyone else). It causes resentment, not least of all because around 400 Protestants are rejected each year solely because of their religion. And, you know what, it makes you wonder whether the police charged with defending society are the best for the job or only there because of their religious beliefs.

Despite all of these practical objections to these policies the objection from principle is most important. Such proposals are simply a means to increasing state control of the private sector. And in that one word – ‘private’ – we have the nub of the issue. Businesses are privately owned. For this reason it is even wrong for the government to legislate for meritocracy. In many countries, including Britain, it is generally illegal to discriminate against people along some or all of the following lines: age, sex, race, sexual orientation, religion, political viewpoint, and disability (where it is deemed irrelevant to the job). Many people think this is a good thing. It isn’t. It’s unjustified interference in private businesses. Our politicians simply can’t get their heads around it, or perhaps just don’t want to since it would involve them relinquishing a degree of power. Since businesses are private then the owner should be able to employ whoever the hell he or she wishes to. If they want to employ only 50 year old black women then that is their prerogative.

The fact of the matter is that most employers don’t give a damn whether employees are black or white, male or female, gay or straight, old or young, left-handed or right-handed, long hair growing out of their noses, warts on their chin, big arses or small, as long as they are the best person for the job at the time of recruitment. We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that businesses exist to make money and in order to make money they need the best employees. If an employer decides he only wants to employ white men then that’s his decision and he’ll pay for it in terms of decreased efficiency, bad publicity, lower profits, decreased competitiveness, and quite possibly bankruptcy. A free market is the best guarantor of fair employment. Businesses can only stay in business if they are competitive. To be competitive they need to employ better people than other companies in the same line of business. In a free market the only thing that matters is a persons fitness for the job.

Governments with interfering policies are like brain surgeons with chainsaws. My message to government is this: make someone happy – mind your own business!

Stephen Graham.