In which I do a little bit of a politics catch up

During my period of non-blogging, on account of all the book-finishing and holibob-going, a range of politics has occurred. Three things in particular caught my wandering attention: firstly, David Cameron had a little cabinet reshuffle; secondly Sayeeda Warsi resigned from the government; and thirdly Mark Simmonds resigned from the foreign office.

The cabinet reshuffle was generally seen as a pre-election attempt to move aside some of the less popular figures in the government, notably Michael Gove, and to bring in some new blood, specifically lady blood, on account of how David Cameron is totally down with equality, at least now it’s been explained to him that holders of a uterus are also allowed to vote. What the reshuffle was trying to say was that the cabinet are modern; they’re in touch with the normal people; they’re just like us. What would be quite poor, from a PR perspective, then would be to lose one of your most prominent female, and most prominent non-white, minister shortly after the reshuffle.

Baroness Warsi resigned in protest at the government’s failure to come out with a strong response to Israel’s military action in Gaza. Since quitting she’s been pretty vocal about the difficulties she feels she experienced within cabinet in terms that only serve to exacerbate the image of a group of privileged, out of touch, old public school boys unable to engage with the wider world.  But that’s just one person’s opinion. So long as it’s not followed up by another minister complaining publicly about how terribly hard done by he is by being paid shedloads, I imagine David Cameron will probably still feel that things are going ok.

Oh dear.

On August 11th, Foreign Office Minister, Mark Simmonds, resigned citing the impossibility of housing his family in central London on his meagre expenses allowance as his reason for stepping down. Now I actually feel that it’s really important that MPs are reasonably paid and remunerated for their costs. If they’re not, then politics really does become an avenue only open to people who are already wealthy. However, this is Mark Simmonds, who was employing his own wife as his office manager on a salary of £20k+ on top of his own £89k salary, and refused to consider the horror of renting a property in outer London. This is an expenses system that allows for 30 return trips per year from constituency to London for MPs’ family members, and would have allowed Mr Simmonds around £28,000 per year towards rent on a London property. The reality is that however ‘intolerable’ Mr Simmonds found his situation, most people, in a country where food banks and rough sleeping are things that happen, will struggle to sympathise with someone bemoaning the meanness of only being allowed slightly more than the national average salary to pay for his second home.

So, if you’re a Prime Minister trying to look open to diversity, modern, in touch with the country at large, I would have to conclude that it’s not been a great couple of weeks. Having said that, part of me is slightly cross with myself for writing this post. If I’m going blog about politics it probably should be about stuff that matters: like education; or the NHS; or the feeble international response to the situation in Gaza.

But actually I think the other stuff – the stuff about perceived privilege and lack of equality – is more than just PR and Westminster bubble vacuousness. We are supposed to be a representative democracy, but the people who are supposed to represent us don’t reflect the range of people in the country, and I think that does matter. Diversity is one of those concepts that people pay lip service to. ‘Yes, it would be great to have more women, but they don’t apply.’ ‘Obviously we’d be open to more disabled candidates, but there are practicalities to think about.’ ‘Of course we want more black people, but they just happen not to have made it through the selection process this time.’ More diversity in government gives you a broader range of experiences to pool into policy making. That gives you a broader range of ideas, and a broader range of expertise. That gives you a much better chance of coming up with a good idea, and of spotting the flaws in the terrible ones. It makes decision making less cosy, but ultimately better, and that should be what matters – that our politicians make the best decisions and pursue the best possible policies for the whole country and for the gloriously diverse mixture of people who live in it.

So that was day 4 of the Week of Awesome Blogging. Come back tomorrow for some more, when I shall be writing about something. I have no idea what. Jolly good.

In which I muse on whether I ought to have A Policy

I am self-employed. I eke my little living out by touring about the place and training people about things. I teach for various different organisations, usually on a freelance/self-employed basis, occasionally as a hourly-paid employee. Generally it’s quite a jolly (if slightly unreliable) way to make a living, as it affords the benefit of getting paid without the drag of having to get out of bed at the same time every day.

It also means that I am spared having to attend meetings at which people discuss policies, you know –  how they ought to have a policy about something, how there should be a working group to design the policy, how the policy should be maintained and reviewed, and then (almost inevitably) how everyone’s ignoring the policy and doing exactly what they did before anyway. I can honestly say that since I packed in having a proper job and went self-employed in 2009 I’ve not had to have a policy about anything. Basically I just do stuff. I don’t even have to go to a meeting to talk endlessly about the stuff I’m going to do. I just do it. It’s at least seven different sorts of lovely.

But last week, something disturbing happened. One of the many and various organisations I work for sent me a “supplier form” to complete asking me to detail my Data Protection Policy, my Equality and Diversity Policy, and my Environment and Sustainability Policy. Now the sensible thing to do would be to append a letter to the form explaining that I’m a sole trader and I don’t really handle personal data and I have no intention of recruiting anyone or building a fossil fuel burning power station in the course of my current business, and then just tick “Not applicable” a lot on the form. That would be the sensible thing to do, but what would be better I think, would be to write myself some policies. That would be a whole hunk of time I could tell myself I was doing work, whilst not actually having to achieve anything. In many ways it’s a win:win situation.

Only it turns out not to take that long. I think I’ve managed to write the perfect one size fits all policy that deals with any and all issues that could ever arise. It has three points. As is my want, I have numbered them.

1. Try not to do stupid things.

2. Try not to do unkind things.

3. (Because most workplace policies ultimately are about covering one’s back against the risk of getting sued) Try not to do illegal things.

That is all. And I think that genuinely does cover all eventualities, and is actually a doubly good environmental policy, as it saves you from having to print out reams of different policies on different things.

Let’s check how it would work in practice – Thinking of printing out a 5000 word document one word per page over 5000 pages? Check the policy. Nope – turns out that would be stupid, so that’s a no! Thinking of poking someone with a stick because they don’t share your ethnic group? Check the policy. Nope – turns out that would be stupid, unkind and illegal. That’s a triple no!

So that seems to work. Right. Lovely new business policies written. Probably ought to get on with doing something useful now. Maybe I’ll have a go at simplifying laws. There’s like loads of them. It’s probably terribly inefficient.

As always, do commenting and following and all that sort of thing. Do you want to amend my policies for all things? Please feel free to make suggestions (so long as I’m not expected to do them – we’re not operating a democracy here people).