Sunday, June 29, 2008

Six Stories


Metalholic runs a machine-tool manufacturing business. It manufactures widgets, many of them for government agencies. He is a progressive-minded fellow, but not exactly a leftist (as a businessman!). He votes Liberal-Democrat. He believes fervently in equal opportunites for everyone, regardless of sex/gender or ethnicity/race. But when he advertises for machine-tool engineers what he finds typically is that all the applicants are male. He would be willing to employ a suitable qualified woman; but there just don't seem to be female machine-tool engineers out there (even if there were, his staff turnover is quite low - since he is a good employer - so that even if he employed, say, two women for every one man for all future applicants it would be many years before the male: female ratio of machine-tool engineers in his employ was 50/50). Metaholic knows that this probably reflects "societal sexism" - girls are probably not sufficiently encouraged to study science or engineering, as children they play with dolls rather than Meccano sets, and so on. Metalholic as a progressive-minded person (and father of three girls) wishes it were not so; but what can he do? He has a business to run.
Now the Government is requiring that he produce an audit, showing the relative wages of men and women in his employment. The audit shows men earn much more (there is a big "pay gap") - the reason for this is that the highly-skilled machine -tool engineers are highly paid as compared to his other staff (many of whom are women) who do different jobs. The Government are going to introduce "contract compliance" policies. Unless Metaholic can reduce the "pay gap" he will lose business. Metaholic muses: "But the pay-gap does not compare like-with-like since it compares people doing different jobs. And, yes, it is evidence of "sexism in society at large" but it is not evidence of discrimination by me".


Many years ago Bob and Kate both applied for a job in marketing. They were similarly qualified, but Kate had more experience. Her interview was dreadful, the chairman of the panel asked if she intended to have children, and did that mean she would soon be leaving her job? He did not ask Bob the same question. Bob got the job.
Over the years Bob rose to become a middle-manager. Over his lifetime his average earnings have exceeded those of Kate, who did eventually get a job, but who struggled for promotion.
Bob is a liberal-minded fellow. He believes in equal opportunties.
It is nearly thirty years later. At Bob's company they now have a "positive action" policy. They want to encourage women and ethnic minorities. Bob is a great supporter of this (he, of course, is not privy to what happened at Kate's interview years earlier, he has always believed he was appointed on merit).
Today Bob chairs the panel which interviews two candidates for a job in the company: Fiona and George. They are both similarly qualified, but George has more experience. When the interviews are over Bob proposes that Fiona be employed. She is perfectly capable of doing the job, and the company employes too few women and needs to close the "pay gap" if it is not to fall foul of the government's "contract compliance" policy. Fiona gets the job.
But we can see that favouring Fiona does not rectify the injustice done to Kate, and that it was Bob, not George, who was the beneficiary of the earlier injustice.


It is true that Bob and George belong to the same "group" (men) and Kate and Fiona to a different "group" (women); and it is true also that comparing one group to the other shows than men are advantaged compared to women. The justification for favouring Fiona over George is that she belongs to a "disadvantaged group".
George comes from inner-city Manchester. He grew up on a council housing estate awash with drugs and crime. He never knew his father. But his mother was a determined and decent women. She raised three children on a low income and encouraged George in every way. He did badly at his A-levels at the first attempt, but went to night-school to take them again (while holding down a job as a supermarket shelf stacker) and was successful. At University he excelled. His mother is very proud of him.
Fiona grew up in Leafy Meadow in the posher part of Didsbury. She attended a private school until she was 11, and then went to Manchester Grammar. When she was struggling with her A-levels Daddy employed a private tutor. Daddy is a successful lawyer. Mummy teaches at the University. Fiona does not see much of either of them.
When Bob argued in favour of employing Fionna he pointed to the "pay gap"; he argued that women were unfairly disadvantaged compared to men, and something should be done about it.
(If Metaholic had heard this he would, in principle, have agreed).


Madge lives on a council housing estate. She is a single-parent mother with three children. She struggles on income support. She did have a part-time job in a local pub for a few hours three days a week. It helped a little. But she became worried when one of the other bar-maids was caught by social security and had her income support reduced. She gave up the job. Today, the kids are at school. Madge is watching day-time television. There is someone called Harriet Harman taking about women "banging their heads off the glass ceiling" in The City. "Which city?", Madge wonders, "Who has a glass ceiling?" Madge is not well-educated. She struggles to read. She was never any good at school. No one encouraged her. But she loves her kids and is determined that they should do well. She wishes she could help them but their school work is too difficult for her.
That evening Fionna is celebrating in a wine-bar in Didsbury. She is so glad that she got the job, but she is worried about promotion prospects: "Everyone knows that the glass ceiling is a reality", she says.


Tommy is in the library. He is looking through the books that are being sold-off because no has borrowed them for ages. One old book is called "Socialism: an Introduction". Beside it is another: "Reducing Social Equality". It seems no one is interested in these things. He goes over to where the new books are. There is a very glossy one entitled: "The Politics of Identity: Ethnicity and Gender". Tommy looks at it but it isn't his cup of tea. Actually he only came in to borrow a book to read to his young daughter. He sees one: "Through the Looking Glass", and leaves with it.


Madge is arbitrating a dispute between two of her children: Damon (aged 10) and Kylie (aged 8). She knows that Damon is more often the one who is at fault. But this time it seems it is Kylie who is at fault. Kylie protests, pointing to all the other occasions when Damon was at fault. Madge is at her wits end. Then she remembers something, something she wants to teach Kylie: "Two wrongs don't make a right", she says.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Brown: time to go?

The result of the Henley by-election is humiliating for Labour: they lost their deposit and finished in fifth place behind the BNP with only 3% of the vote. True, it is a conservative safe seat. Boris had 54% of the vote in 2005 (and the Tory candidate this time had 57%). But Labour had 15% in 2005. Turnout was lower than in 2005: 50% compared to 68%. On a lower turnout the Tories increased their number of votes from 19,796 to 24,892. It could hardly be worse.

This comes on top of the ICM poll in Wednesday's Guardian which gave the Conservatives a 20-point lead on 45% to Labour's 25%. Gordon Brown's personal approval ratings are abysmal.

The ICM poll showed only 13% think that Britain's economic problems are the result of global difficulties; 40% think the government wholly or mainly to blame. This may seem unreasonable - since Brown is, for example, hardly to blame for rising fuel and food prices - but (a) that's politics, (b) governments are never slow to claim the credit when economic prospects are good, and (c) the government - Brown - does bear some responsibility for the easy credit, the house price boom, and the lack of regulation of financial institutions over the past decade.

It seems to me Labour is, as they say, "up shit creek without a paddle". I can't see Brown turning this around. And I don't think a new Leader - probably Miliband - can wave a magic wand and everything will be fine-and-dandy.

Yet even so (Politaholic has finally concluded) it is probably worth giving Miliband a shot at it. Brown has had his chance, and blown it.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Is about 14 days?

Politaholic has just watched Thursday's Question Time on BBCIPlayer and it looked to me as if David Davis was skewered over the 42 days, chiefly because he voted in favour of 28 days. On his blog Davis argues that he supports 28 days as a "necessary evil" but "not a day more". So its about 14 days not 42? Of course, we all know that we have to balance security against liberty, but if you support 28 days and oppose 42 you can hardly argue, as Davis has been, that this is a matter of principle. I suppose the principle could be "no longer than is strictly necessary"; but then how long is necessary is - it seems - a pragmatic calculation. After all, I suppose those who support 42 days or 90 days also do so on the grounds that it is a "necessary evil". Frankly, I doubt that 42 days is necessary (and from what I have read in the papers that, it seems, is the view of M15 as well). Remember we are not talking about the police having enough evidence for a conviction; merely enough evidence to bring a charge. If they can't do that after 42 days one wonders why they have the poor devil in custody in the first place. Indeed, 28 days seems too long to me.
More generally, although Davis opposes the spread of CCTV and ID cards, he also opposes the Human Rights Act and supports capital punishment, not conventional liberal standpoints.
The argument about CCTV is also complicated. I personally don't like them; but there is no question that in working-class inner-city areas they are popular, and one can understand why.
I'm afraid that so far as Davis is concerned I can't quite swallow the "man of principle" pitch; perhaps I am just too cynical, but I think this is about self-promotion and the Conservative leadership. We are all assuming that Davis has given up the prospect of becoming Home Secretary if the Tories win the next election. Davis may have sensed that Cameron had other plans.
I seem to remember, many moons ago, reading something about Davis in the Guardian Diary concerning his time in the Territorial SAS. It seems, in a training exercise, he planned an ambush, arranging his men on opposite sides of the road and instructing them to open fire as the target passed. Until someone pointed out that, facing each other on opposite sides of the road, his men were in each others line of fire...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Polly and Gordon are no longer an item

Polly Toynbee has gone right off Gordon. Her latest is scorching. Gordon, vis-a-vis the 42 days "knowingly did what was wrong in an absurd attempt to out-tough the Tories and please a punitive public". To be saved by Anne Widdicombe, UKIP and the DUP was "personally shaming". And - together with the inept attempt to bribe the middle-class with a tax cut - these are "character-destroying catastrophes from which Brown can never recover, because they betray dishonourable and dishonest intent - and that has been rumbled by the voters". So the wedding is off then?
She is right, of course. "Not flash, just Gordon"? I don't think so. "Not flash, and obsessed with short-term gimmicks and inept attempts to outflank the Tories on the right". Blair without the cheesy grin and communication skills. His "moral compass"? Pass the sick bag.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Harriet ("throw away the key") Harman

Politaholic watched PMQ's on BBCIPlayer yesterday. Who was that sitting on the frontbench nodding in agreement as Brown defended locking people up for six weeks without charge? Harriet Harman, former stalwart of what was then the National Council for Civil Liberies (NCCL) and is now Liberty (during her radical five minutes, an essential item on any ambitious posh girl's CV). What must it feel like to sit there while the Tories argue against "ineffectual authoritarianism" on the grounds of civil liberties? Ah, times change...

Has David Davis lost it?

What on earth is David Davis up to? I'm buggered if I know. He says it is to protest against the “slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms” by the Government. But his party voted against the 42 days didn't it? His constituency, Haltemprice and Howden, is a safe seat; at the last election he won 47.5% of the vote (22,792) and the Liberal-Democrats were in second place with 36.8% (17,676). The Liberal-Democrats are not going to stand a candidate in the by-election, so there seems to be no reason why Davis should not romp home. So what's the point? It obviously has something to do with Cameron's ascendancy. Davis - like Brown in 1994 - clearly thinks "it should have been me!". I presume has been cut out of Cameron's inner circle. Perhaps he suspects that, if Cameron wins the next election, he will be re-shuffled down (or out). Probably there is not much love lost there. But even so it all seems very odd. How it will help Davis's leadership ambitions (which is what this must be about) is beyond me. Has he gone bonkers? Gordon will be popping the champagne corks.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Humiliating Victory

The SDLP's Mark Durkan got it right: for Gordon Brown yesterday's vote on the 42 days was a "humiliating victory". Yes, he won the vote, very narrowly, and probably saved his bacon for the moment. I dare say he thinks he is a tactical genius, outflanking the Tories on the right. He certainly looked pleased with himself, striding out of Downing Street grinning all over his face. But to be saved by Peter Robinson (at a price) and Anne Widdicombe. How grubbier can it get? If Gordon Brown seriously imagines this will enhance his reputation or that of the government then he is a bloody fool.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Spot the Tory

Politaholic has just watched Jacqui Smith and Boris Johnson on the Andy Marr show and it was hard to tell which was the Tory. Well, actually Jacqui Smith sounded like the Tory, and a pretty blinkered one at that. Boris's parting shot was that it is wrong to try to "scarify people into taking away their civil liberties", which is exactly what Smith had been doing, and not with a great deal of subtlety. She came across as an apparatchik to her fingertips. (Incidentally, she also denied trying to bribe the DUP. Pull the other one...).

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Gordon the Brave?

Brown has recently been getting a lot of advice - most recently from Andrew Rawnsley - that he should "be bold" and take firm stands on the issues he believes in. No more "neither one thing nor the other" (as over the signing of the Lisbon Treaty), no more u-turns, no more indecisive dithering. A new, clear-sighted Gordon the voters can respect. Trouble is, he appears to have decided to nail his flag to the mast over, er, the 42 days, as shabby a piece of triangulation as any, with no purpose so far as I can see except to make Brown look "tough" - and, crucially, tougher than the Tories - on security. (Meanwhile - as Brown "hangs tough" - behind the scenes Geoff Hoon and Jack Straw, and also Jacqui Smith, are offering concessions hand-over-fist in a desperate attempt to win over backbench rebels, apparently with some success. Backbenchers are probably also unwillling to inflict a defeat on the Government given Labour's catastrophic poll ratings and the continuing speculation about the leadership). Brown presumably thinks that if he wins next week's vote that will be a great triumph (given the expectation that he would lose) and if he loses, well, at least he is seen to be standing firm for what he believes, standing up for the national interest against those bleeding-heart Tories (this is how Blair played the 90 days). Perhaps he has also factored in a more grim calculation. If - God forbid - there is another suicide bombing then Brown can say "I told you so" even if the 42 days would not have prevented it, as it would not have prevented the last suicide bombing. In any case it won't work. Whether Brown wins or loses the vote on the 42 days it looks like what it is: Brown posturing, super-Brown with his underpants outside his trousers. Short-term tactics again.