As you can imagine in such a situation, much of the chit-chat over dinner involved introductions and small talk about occupations and hobbies as we all got to know each other. One of these people was a softly-spoken heavily-pregnant lady to my left, at the time a Conservative Councillor. I remember explaining to her that I ran a transport business and - expecting a negative response - that in my spare time I write a blog about lifestyle restrictions ... especially on tobacco. I do like to drop that bombshell into situations occasionally because I find reactions to it very interesting. This lady wasn't fazed in the slightest, in fact she agreed that tobacco control had gone too far and that the smoking ban was badly-drafted.
I spoke to her at length during the evening as she was a genuinely likeable person and one who didn't seem to have a bad bone in her body. This was borne out at the end of the meal when I made a dreadful faux pas.
The dessert was an arty affair consisting of a coffee-mug shaped piece of chocolate which contained what I thought in the low lighting was jelly or ganache. Perhaps trying my best to show manners, it didn't cross my mind to pick the cup up with my fingers, so I cut it with the fork and spoon, resulting in it snapping sideways and sending the contents - thick cherry brandy liqueur - flying through the air and coating the lady's dress from chest to knee! I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me but while I profusely apologised, she just warmly laughed it off as an understandable accident. A kinder, more friendly and tolerant person it would be difficult to find.
But, apparently, she is now being made out to be a nasty, intolerant and hateful bigot.
A UKIP councillor has said businesses should be able to refuse services to women and gay people, in comments posted on an internet forum.
The Argus reported the remarks made by Lewes councillor Donna Edmunds.Yes, she is now a UKIP candidate for the EU elections, so Tory HQ is getting stuck in too.
UKIP MEP candidate & Cllr says businesses should be able to turn away women, gay & black people. @UKIP do? Nothing. http://t.co/SdGN1QC2kg
— CCHQ Press Office (@CCHQPress) March 5, 2014
Worried much, CCHQ?
When you read the original article, though, the story turns out to be different from the slavering over-reaction which has surrounded it.
“I believe that all business owners, Christian, Muslim, gay, straight, should be allowed to withhold their services from whomever that (sic) choose whenever they choose.
“It’s their business. Why should they be forced to serve or sell to anyone?”
When asked by The Argus to clarify her statement the EU election hopeful said it would be ok for a shop owner to refuse to serve her based on no other fact than she was a woman, or if service was refused to a gay person.
She said: “I'm a libertarian so I don’t think the state should have a role on who business owners serve."Aye, just like it's wrong for the state to decide that you cannot serve someone.
“I wouldn't refuse to serve gay people. I'm not saying their position is a correct one. I'm saying they should be free to make that choice themselves.”This is hardly controversial, or shouldn't be, because a central plank of free markets is that both vendors and consumers should have equal rights, as the Freedom Association astutely explained today.
The media have seemingly read this as “businesses should be allowed to refuse service to gay people and women”. However, the point isn't about discrimination towards any “group” but that it should be the property owner’s right to sell his or her own asset in a way that they wish to. If a business owns a particular product, which they've bought from their suppliers or produced themselves, then why not allow them not to sell that product to whomever they want to?
It should also be the consumer’s right not to buy from a business, if they choose not to. This can be done for a whole range of reasons and is up to the individual whether they agree with the business practices of the firm in question.
We should live in a free society in which people can choose which shops they visit and, if for any reason they disagree with a company's policy on a particular issue (whether it be the selling of certain products or an ethical stance), they can go elsewhere. This is the biggest driver for change in business attitudes: if customers leave one business because of their policy/products, then the business has a choice: change or die.Quite. This is a pillar of free society which has been widely accepted until political correctness jumped in and declared itself the new God.
Those who piled into the outrage bus about this seem to think that laws against discrimination have somehow eradicated discrimination, and that Edmunds is trying to resurrect it.
This is nonsense, of course. Despite the laws we have, I expect businesses discriminate every day, it's only the ones who declare their honest reasons who will be found out. What has changed is that - whereas businesses can refuse to serve you because they don't like the shape of your nose if they feel like it, if they are subsequently accused of discrimination on the basis of sex, race or sexual orientation, the law says that they must now prove a negative or face punishment.
What I find most interesting about this, though, is how a law designed to reduce 'hate' has panned out for Donna Edmunds.
For expressing a valid theoretical debating point, she is now being attacked and labelled as a hateful bigot. For employing free speech she is now being told to shut up. Despite not being intolerant or bigoted, she is now being forced to prove a negative herself.
But most depressing of all, the righteous defenders of tolerance - the ones who so despise all forms of hate and want it eradicated via legislation - have responded with intolerance, bigotry and vile ignorant hatred of their own against a genuinely decent person instead of calmly debating an opinion which doesn't agree with theirs. Don't they remember why they demanded the laws in the first place?