I rather fancied being on the government’s new Panel on Fair Access to the Professions.
Unfortunately, having not come from a privileged background, such as New Labour, I didn’t stand a chance. In fact, the first I knew about the panel was when the Cabinet Office announced the names of the 18 worthies who will sit on it.
How come I didn’t see the job advert? A call to the Cabinet Office justified my worst fears: there hadn’t been one. Yes – with no sense of irony, the government launched its latest crackdown against social inequality in the workplace by appointing its own chums to the body charged with the task.
No-one else got a look-in. I feel a bit like Yosser Hughes, the unhinged Scouser from The Boys from the Blackstuff, the TV series set in the recession of the early eighties: “Gissa job!” If Gail Rebuck, head of Random House – the publishing house which recently published a tome by the prime minister’s wife – can sit on a committee about widening access to the professions, why not me?
Come to think of it, I’ve never seen a job advert for the House of Lords, either. Having kicked out the hereditary peers on the grounds that it’s unfair that the upper house should be dominated by privileged individuals, Tony Blair saw to it that it filled up with his chums instead. The rest of us can neither stand for election nor apply for a job as a peer.
Of course, Labour isn’t going to, and doesn’t want to, abolish the class system. All it’s done is replace the aristocracy with a quangocracy, membership of which is determined in the manner of a medieval king choosing the members of his court. Once you’re on one quango, you can quickly progress to other quangos – without ever having to do anything as irritating as submit a CV and fight it out with dozens of other hopefuls.
As for the rest of us, an entirely different rule applies. Woe betide any business that appoints its staff without observing the pieties of equal opportunities. Ask a harmless question about an applicant’s children in a job interview or comment on his unusual surname, and employers risk being hauled to an extremely expensive employment tribunal for discrimination.
One predatory lawyer working in this field has even warned that companies that ask for job applications to be submitted online may be guilty of discrimination against older people who don’t have access to the internet. “So, Mr Higgins, you applied for a job as systems analyst at ACME Computers Ltd and were disqualified when told that you must submit an application online? How dare these employers assume that you can’t do the job just because you’ve never used a computer in your life?”
How much simpler when you can fill your job vacancies by picking up the phone and ringing some New Labour toady who already sits on half a dozen quangos?
I don’t think Gordon Brown quite observes the spirit of employment law when he is reshuffling his cabinet, either. When he’s selecting a junior minister in the department of paperclips, does he put an advert on the House of Commons noticeboard inviting applications?
Like hell he does. He just picks up the phone, rings one of his favourites and offers them the job.
Of course, if you fill your vacancies only with people you know, then aggrieved job applicants can’t try to sue you. That’s the daft thing about the mountain of rules concerning discrimination in recruitment procedures: as far as promoting social mobility is concerned, they’re counter-productive.
When taking out an advert and interviewing applicants is such a legal minefield, there’s a strong incentive to do what Gordon does: employ your mates from the golf club instead.
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