Traditional attitudes to issues such as sexuality are being shut out of debate by a new form of liberal “censoriousness” which only allows “inoffensive” opinions to be heard in public, Britain’s most senior judge has warned.
Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, said that Britain could be becoming less diverse rather than more because once common opinions are now deemed “unacceptable”.
He likened the new form of “moral reaction” to the opposite but equally restrictive attitudes of previous generations.
The judge also warned that the children of Britain’s elite will have to settle for worse jobs than their parents in coming years.
His comments came in a lecture at the House of Commons in which he spoke about improving representation of minorities including women, ethnic minorities, gay people and those from poorer backgrounds in the law and other professions.
But he said that in the area of sexual attitudes, attempts to improve diversity risked bringing a new restrictiveness of their own.
It follows complaints from traditionalists who opposed gay marriage that they were unfairly being treated as homophobic because of their stance on matrimony.
At the height of the debate over the issue, a housing trust manager from Trafford, Greater Manchester, was demoted from his job and accused of discrimination because he said in a private Facebook posting that he thought same-sex weddings in churches were a step too far.
Lord Neuberger said: “A tendency appears to be growing in some quarters which is antithetical to diversity in a rather indirect and insidious way.”
In a reference to the Larkin poem Annus Mirabilis, which jokes that “sexual intercourse began in 1963”, he added: “As Phillip Larkin suggested in his famous poem, 1963 heralded a rather permissive period, partly no doubt in reaction to the very conventional and straight-laced post-World War Two outlook.
“Possibly as a counter-reaction to the permissive society, a combination of political correctness and moral reaction appears to be developing.
“While I have no wish to comment on, let alone criticise, this development, I fear that it may risk spilling over into a censoriousness about what views people can publicly air as to the merits of diversity or other issues which indirectly relate to diversity.
“As has been said on more than one occasion, freedom only to speak inoffensively is a freedom not worth having.
“The more that arguments and views are shut out as unacceptable the less diverse we risk becoming in terms of outlook.
“And the less diverse we become in terms of outlook, the more we risk not valuing diversity and the more we therefore risk losing diversity in practice.”
Lord Neuberger also said increased social mobility and the economic downturn would be “painful” for the “sons and daughters of those at the top”.
He said: “Now that we have an economy that is expanding more slowly; consequently, improving diversity in the higher levels through increased social mobility is much more difficult, because the number of available jobs is hardly expanding.
“And increased social mobility is potentially much more painful, because, if the top echelon of jobs remains static, it is logically inevitable that the sons and daughters of those at the top will have to go down the snakes in order to enable those from less privileged backgrounds to go up the ladders.”