Sir David has a manner as wet as a half-sucked fruit pastille
00:12 GMT, 7 December 2012
The business select committee, chaired by Adrian Bailey, is holding an inquiry into 'women in the workplace'
Biggest obsession for our Westminster rulers is not the economy, which they try to ignore. It is not the decline of the West or foreign aid (suddenly out of fashion) or gay equality (battle all but won).
It is not even saving the planet, which, m’dears, is terribly last year and, with Ed Davey now in charge of it, somehow a bit drab.
No. Their biggest obsession is egalitarianism for top-flight female executives.
The business select committee is holding an inquiry into ‘women in the workplace’.
And by ‘women’, it does not mean dinner ladies or NHS matrons or grandmotherly pedestrian-crossing operatives (are they nowadays called lollipop solutions providers). They do not mean female farmers or women who drive trains or actresses or editresses or typists or Page Three girls.
They mean members of their own narrow pod: top civil servants, the six- figure-salary sisterhood.
The committee is chaired by one of the less obviously capable men in Parliament, Adrian Bailey (Lab, West Bromwich West). Mr Bailey, a straggly-bearded specimen prone to stringy sentences, occupies the seat formerly held by Betty Boothroyd.
Now there was a lady who never needed any positive action to get ahead.
Betty and her friend Gwyneth Dunwoody, the late Labour Member for Crewe, had firm views on such matters. Any man who tried to patronise them by suggesting that they needed quotas was soon told not to speak such nonsense.
In recent days the committee has held hearings into the subject of increasing the number of female company directors.
Firm: Former West Bromwich West MP Betty Boothroyd would stand up to any man who tried to patronise her by suggesting that they needed quotas
Should officialdom intervene to force businesses to appoint more women to their boards The meddlers are hot for it.
More realistic voices are saying the idea is unworkable and possibly illegal. Yesterday the committee heard from Sir David Normington, a former Whitehall permanent secretary who made a fair hash of things at the Home Office and has since (naturally) been given a sinecure as Civil Service Commissioner and Commissioner for Public Appointments. His job – if job it truly be – is to make sure that top Whitehall jobs are dished out in a proper way.
Sir David talked to the committee about how 58 per cent of junior civil servants are women but how that figure drops to 37 per cent for middle ranks and 17 per cent for mandarins. Everyone agreed that this was terribly bad.
Sir David has a manner as wet as a half-sucked fruit pastille. The voice is Dame Alan Bennett, the hand gestures are children’s telly. He inclines his head and applies a gassy smile to his lips, the better to empathise with his audience.
The boss: Sir David Normington explained that he is in charge of the Code of Practice on Whitehall appointments and is currently tweaking it
That such an irredeemably moist personality ever ran the Home Office, of all departments, may explain our country’s predicament.
He feared that having so few female permanent secretaries at the top of our Civil Service ‘sends out the wrong sort of signals’. ‘I’m very concerned,’ he gulped, a little quaver in his throat.
The committee handled him as gently as musical examiners testing a five-year-old cellist.
Apart from Mr Bailey, all four MPs attending were women. All conformed to the Establishment view that ‘something must be done’.
Sir David explained that he is in charge of the Code of Practice on Whitehall appointments and is tweaking it. He is prepared (oooh!) to ‘name and shame’ departments which do not appoint more senior women. He kept stating his desire for ‘diversity’ and ‘flexibility’ (when he said that word, his forearms gave a little double shake reminiscent of Larry Grayson).
Frequently during the hearing one heard generalisations – for example, women were ‘self-selecting’ for jobs – that were themselves a form of sexism.
Politicians are banging on about this only because they lack the guts to tackle our country’s real problems. Officials take up the issue only because they want to please their political masters.
Sir David admitted that the number of women actually affected at the top of Whitehall was tiny – perhaps half a dozen. Have MPs really nothing better to do