What the woman’s hour list really reveals

21 02 2013

Earlier this week a message appeared on my facebook page, “woman’s hour top 100 women, what d’ya think?”

Leaving aside that I am a middle aged woman from Liverpool and not a teenager from the ‘hood, I’ll tell you what I think.

My first thought is that the list says more about the women who voted than it does about women as a whole, or at least I hope it does. Nothing screams Middle England more loudly than Radio 4 and the Woman’s Hour top 100 list reflects their prejudices – lots of middle class white folk with a few darker faces included so as not to appear racist. How else would The Queen have come out as number 1 with the judges?!

That she has influence is without question, but how has that influence been used other than to foster privilege and enforce the entitlement that the upper class feels in ruling over the rest of us? A situation never more obvious than with the current crop of Old Etonians and Bullingdon Boys who populate the cabinet. The judges, in placing The Queen at the head of the list, have served to reinforce the paradigm that it’s not what you know but who you know that matters in 21st century Britain. And that it’s not what you do but how much money you have that is to be admired.

What message does this send out to the millions of young women setting out on their careers? Just this, that if you study hard enough, go to university, get a good job and work hard you might just be lucky enough to be born Queen of England.

I have no truck with any of Margaret Thatcher’s policies but would have been happier for her to head the list as it is undeniable that she reached her position of influence from personal ambition and determination (and OK Denis’s money helped but she could have settled for a less high profile position as did most Tory wives).

And so few politicians on the list? I can’t argue with that as where are the female leaders to take over from her, Shirley Williams, Barbara Castle? Theresa May, the invisible Home Secretary, is another example of a senior woman who should have influence but who has exerted none. That she came second on the list is a disgrace.

I suspected that I would be less than impressed by the list and avoided listening to the awards programme but I did catch the last couple of minutes, just long enough to hear the presenters making their closing remarks.

What struck me was the immutable smugness of Jenny Murray and Jane Garvie. Remember the story of the dog riding a bicycle? It’s not done well but amazing that it is done at all. The tone of the closing remarks was just like that: “Thank you to all you lovely ladies here today, the lovely ladies who voted, the lovely ladies on the list. Aren’t we all wonderful? We’ve managed to come here this morning, without our lovely husbands even managed to find 100 lovely women to vote for.” Rather than lamenting the lack of real influence and the clear gaps that the list threw up they were more than content that they had actually manages to find 100 women from whom to create a list.

Staggering complacency.

We don’t need this list. What we need is a proper debate as to why so few women have real influence and why those that do have it chose not to use it.

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Is there any sign of change?

5 02 2013

I saw only today on facebook this comment, “If the growing number of people that are openly calling for the PM and his government to be lynched is telling us anything, it is that revolution is imminent.”

I don’t agree with this conclusion but the growing unrest, at least on social media platforms, does indicate that change, if happening at all, isn’t coming fast enough.

Since the financial collapse we have seen a society that has, more than anytime in the last 50 years, been ready to contemplate change, one indeed that has been clamouring for change. In particular changes have been demanded to the way our political, financial and government institutions operate. But despite all of the noise and column inches devoted to discussing change, are there any signs that things are actually changing?

I think not, and I’ll tell you why.

Politics

  1. One of the first scandals to rock our trust in politicians was the expenses scandal. Chris Grayling claimed expenses for his flat in Pimlico, close to the Houses of Parliament, despite having a constituency home just 17 miles away. He also had two buy-to-let properties in nearby Wimbledon. His total expense claim was £127,000. To me that seems like cheating. Yet he is now a minster at the Department of Work and Pensions. How can someone with such a skewed view of what is morally acceptable still be in a position of power? Incidentally, to put his expense claim in context, it amounts to 20 years of benefit for one of the sick or disabled people, his department is responsible for.
  2. Douglas Hogg, a former Conservative Cabinet minister, included with his expenses claims the cost of having the moat cleared, piano tuned and stable lights fixed at his country manor house. He is, quite rightly, the FORMER cabinet minister. However he is to make a return to politics. The 1999 House of Lords Act retained 92 hereditary peers. When one party-political hereditary peer dies a by-election takes place to replace him with another peer. Mr Hogg is on the register of hereditary peers entitled to stand in such a by-election and none other than David Cameron has recommended that he be given a life peerage. Mr Hogg is now favourite to take up the seat in the Lords vacated by the death of Lord Onslow.

Banking

  1. You all know RBS. It is the bank which received a publicly funded £45.5 billion bail-out in 2008 and is over 80% owned by the state. For “publicly funded” read “our money” and for “the state” read “you and me”. Surely it has changed since the days of Fred The Shred Goodwin? NO. RBS is shortly expected to announce that it intends to pay around £250m in bonuses to staff in it’s investment arm. This is the same investement arm that faces a £500m fine for its role in the Libor-rigging scandal. Put simply, the individuals collectively found guilty of interest rate fixing will individually be rewarded with massive bonuses. The fine imposed on RBS will be funded from reserves, that is, it will come from our money!
  2. There was widespread agreement after the crash that the operations of retail banks, with their high street branches and conservative lending policies are a million miles away from investment banks, with their complex, high-risk products. Yet still these two banking practices sit together in the massive financial institutions that are Lloyds, Barclays, RBS and HSBC. You can be forgiven for thinking that investment and retail banking have always been close bed-fellows, but think again. Until 1986 in the UK and as late as 1990 in the US the operations were separate. Yet we are constantly told that, in the world of banking, big is beautiful and that the complexity of their offering is essential to their successful operation. Why? There is no good reason yet, despite the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Banking, nothing changes.

Government

  1. The coalition proudly announced when coming to power that the days of big government were over but has there really been a redistribution from central to local authorities? In my view it is only when power moves from Whitehall that people will truly have a say in the way in which they are governed. The coalition promised much, the Localism Act seeks to reverse much of the centralisation which has occurred over the past 50-60 years. Much of what it has to say, local communities being involved in land planning, being able to take over services from local authorities is positive but, and it is a very big but, there is little change in the way local councils can raise and distribute income. The biggest hole in the Localism Bill has been seen all too clearly in the last week. HS2. When central government has a pet project that it wishes to pursue it can push through legislation irrespective of local concerns and objections. Personally, I don’t think there is an economic or environmental case for HS2 but that isn’t the point here. The point is that, despite making speeches in favour of local decision making, the government still does just what it pleases when it wants to.
  2. Tax Evasion. I beg your pardon, Tax Avoidance. I listened, live and in full, to David Cameron’s speech in Davos and was delighted to hear that he planned to push the G8 for action against companies which “navigate their way around legitimate tax systems and even low tax rates with an army of clever accountants”. Yet the major accountancy firms told a committee of MPs this week that they received annual revenue of almost 500 million pounds, collectively, from work for the UK government. When Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee suggested that the firms involved in tax avoidance shcemes on behalf of their clients, should be barred from getting government contracts, for the entirely reasonable notion that it would avoid a conflict of interest, a spokesperson from one of the accountants said: “The role we play makes the tax system work.” Ah yes, but for whom?