Is affirmative action the new norm? And if so, why has there been no public debate about this? An actor friend recently told me that his agent had warned him to be prepared for 70 percent fewer auditions in the future due to a form of affirmative action. I thought this was simply something to do with the arts and the obsession with diversity, seen recently, and in the last few years, with the constant angst about the lack of diversity in the Oscars and similar award ceremonies.

However, in the last few weeks the chef in the restaurant my daughter works in told her that they had an affirmative action employment policy. I told her that the chef was mistaken.

Then, talking to another friend, he explained that his son had recently had two interviews. The first, for a chemical engineering job with a major oil company up north, found him in the last twelve for a job thousands had applied for. Of this twelve, ten of the interviewees were women. This was particularly surprising to the young man as there had been no women on his engineering degree course. His next interview, which took place in Edinburgh, was with a major bank. Here the son told his father, of the eleven being interviewed, ‘I was the token white man’.

It’s still unclear what policies these various companies are following but there does appear to be some form of affirmative action taking place for both women and ethnic minorities. It would be interesting to know what the public thought about this. It would also be interesting to know how this form of discrimination is legal.

Historically affirmative action has not been adopted in this country. Even for liberals and people on the left, affirmative action was rejected because it was seen as patronising or at best a sticking plaster for a system that should be challenged. If sexist or racist employment practices were in place, the argument went, we should challenge the politics, prejudice and practices rather than simply adopt affirmative action.

In this respect, the USA was seen as inferior to the UK. They adopted affirmative in the 1960s and, interestingly, it was the conservative and later disgraced President Nixon, who really pushed this approach. Nixon adopted it as both a compromise and a way to pull the rug from under the radical demands of the civil rights movement of the time.

If anybody today argued that either women or black people are inferior and should not be treated equally when applying for jobs they would not only be seen as sexist and racist but weird. Nobody, or practically nobody thinks like this. And yet, this patronising, illiberal, discriminatory approach to employing people appears to be taking hold.