Northampton South MP Andrew Lewer: Halifax dances with wokes over ‘virtue signalling’

Bank tells customers: ‘If you disagree with our values, you’re welcome to close your account’ .. lots did!

By Andrew Lewer MP
Monday, 11th July 2022, 12:04 pm
Updated Monday, 11th July 2022, 12:05 pm
MP Andrew Lewer believes Halifax scored an own goal with its message to customers
MP Andrew Lewer believes Halifax scored an own goal with its message to customers

Every day there seems to be another ludicrous example of companies and organisations dictating how we think and how we should behave.

There has been an explosion of ‘diversity managers’ hired in HR departments in recent years projecting and enforcing a very narrow and increasingly divisive world view that purports to protect minorities.

The latest diktat comes from the British Army. The SAS are no longer allowed to use the words ‘Rupert’ or ‘Doris’ in their banter as it is deemed offensive. SAS officers are also forbidden to call the SBS the ‘Shaky Boat Service.’ Again, it is deemed too offensive.

Last week the Halifax got itself into a public relations disaster when customers questioned the bank imposing its values on them via their ‘pronouns matter’ campaign.

When some customers complained about their ‘virtue signalling’, they were told, and I quote, “If you disagree with our values, you’re welcome to close your account”. Well, lots did.

One account holder claimed to have transferred £450,000 worth of investments and savings to another bank.

One Halifax customer from Torbay told a national paper that, “I don’t choose my bank because of their values on gender identity. I choose it on interest rates and customer service. If I am expected to hold the same values as my bank I’ll go elsewhere and I have”.

Former Halifax Branch Manager Howard Brown, the face of the hugely successful Halifax television advertisement campaigns of twenty years ago, described the bank’s attitude as ‘disgraceful’.

“That’s not the Halifax I knew. If this had happened when I was working there, we’d all have been shocked and disappointed. It’s a service industry - you should leave politics to the politicians. They have got this wrong”.

Perhaps the even bigger own goal from a virtue signalling bank was HSBC. It too flooded its social media accounts with its own ‘pronouns matter’ and HSBC Pride campaigns.

Whilst lauding liberal values here, in Hong Kong it was freezing the bank accounts of prominent exiled pro-democracy activists in league with the authoritarian Chinese state. HSBC Pride in the USA or Europe and yet China is a terrible place to live if you are gay, Muslim or a democrat. Labour MP Chris Bryant has accused HSBC of "aiding and abetting one of the biggest crackdowns on democracy in the world".

Schools and universities too are increasingly removing great works of English literature in place of more radical texts, with the removal of one of our very greatest poets, Philip Larkin, from approved texts by the OCR examination body being just the most prominent example. They are slowly teaching students what to think, rather than how to think, using diversity and inclusiveness as a cover for imposing contested, minority values from above.

Some Student Unions have sought to go further and prevent those with views they disagree with from being able to speak at all, often using ‘safety’ or ‘causing offence’ as devices to ban people or groups.

I was one of the MPs who pressured the Government to act over threats to free speech on campus, organising a letter to the Prime Minister and Education Secretary on the subject in January 2021, signed by twenty colleagues, and leading to The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech Bill). Cancel culture on campus is real and those institutions resisting its encroachments deserve our support and will be assisted by this Bill.

Free speech and corporate so-called ‘wokery’ are not ‘bubble’ issues, not distractions from the very serious problems people have in their lives at the moment and not to be dismissed by those seeking unwarranted control as ‘culture wars’.

Being able — and feeling able — to speak freely, and not only via some self-appointed arbiters’ straight-jacket of approved terminology, are core to the health of our democratic society and must be defended.