Monday, 25 July 2016

Motherhood and apple pie

I have never made an apple pie – in fact until I retired from full-time work I had only ever made two kinds of cake – baking wasn’t my strong suit – but that’s another story.

I wrote a while ago about the leadership election for the Conservative Party. Andrea Leadsom spoke about the fact that she had children and therefore had more of a stake in the future than someone who didn’t. The unfortunate part of this was that the person who will be our Prime Minister had only spoken a couple of days before about the sadness of not being able to have children.  Ouch. I am very sure that Leadsom was not making this point quite as pointedly as the media made out – but once you stick your head above the parapet the press are very unforgiving.

It is not unusual for politicians to parade their families to show how “human” they are.  Whether it is walking hand in hand with their spouse or parading the children – Hilary Clinton speaks often about being a mother and grandmother and Donald Trump’s children are his advisers and always on the platform with him.  Who cares....

It did set me thinking about what impact being a parent has on your suitability for a post. Having a child is a life changing event – as is losing a parent (especially when you are young) losing a partner, a life-threatening illness or serious but not life threatening illness, losing your job – the list is endless and they all change you, but they don’t provide you with the skills and experience to better perform a role.

Andy Murray seemed to think that becoming a father had helped him win Wimbledon. I am sure being in a happy and stable relationship has helped too. But his only professional concern has to be himself – that is what tennis is all about and his emotional state can have an impact on his performance.

Being a mother certainly accustoms you to managing on very little or disrupted sleep – as does being a nurse or doctor, an ambulance driver or shift worker; a lawyer or banker working through the night to close a deal...

Very few cabinet members have experience in the sector where they hold portfolios (the Canadian Defence minister is a much decorated soldier which perhaps is the exception!). To all the politicians – I don’t want to know about your personal life unless it seriously impacts your professional life, I really just want to know that you are competent and can do the job, manage your colleagues and challenge your advisers (and ensure that they challenge you.)

For the voter – it is a leap of faith – but then it always is.

Monday, 11 July 2016

A Leader – of whom?

If I had a pound for every time leader or leadership has been mentioned in the last couple of weeks I would be rich.

I used to be Chief Executive of a medical research charity with over 50 staff and several hundred volunteers around the country. Imagine a situation where, for some reason (or more than one) over half my senior management team had stepped down because they didn’t have confidence in my running of the organisation. Additionally the majority of the staff doubted my leadership and suggested that I leave – but – all the volunteers thought I was wonderful. This is a ridiculous and untenable situation – there would be no way I could stay in post.

I know that many of my readers live abroad so will set out the background.

The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party, took a gamble on a referendum and lost.  He immediately resigned – however foolhardy his behaviour may or may not have been in calling the referendum, that was the correct thing to do.

This triggered a leadership contest, which followed strict rules – a vote amongst MPs, bottom one drops out, another vote and so on until there are only two left.  Those two were Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom. Today, Leadsom has withdrawn leaving Theresa May as the Leader and therefore Prime Minister. Leadsom only had the support of a quarter of Conservative Members of Parliament and felt that even if the members of the Party around the country had supported her she would not have sufficient support within the House of Commons.  I won’t go into the debacle of her press interview over the weekend and the poor handling of it, etc.

The reality check was that she was self aware enough to know that she wasn’t going to make it – let’s see in a few years’ time. So that’s the Conservative Party done.  Theresa May goes off to the Palace to see the Queen on Wednesday and moves into Number 10 Downing Street. Done by the book, following the rules and efficient (and no doubt some covert behind the scenes action). Leadsom also put the party before her own ambition – the leadership contest would have dragged on for nine weeks, very destabilising for the country.

The Labour Party is something else (in more ways than one). Their Leader was elected by the party membership with an overwhelming majority last year. He has failed to lead his party, to mount a successful Opposition to the Government and despite 172 MPs voting to support a vote of no confidence with only 40 against, repeats his mantra that he has a mandate from the members of the Party who are apparently signing up by the tens of thousands.  

Over half his Shadow Cabinet resigned and he has had to bring in inexperienced MPs, some to hold two briefs in order to act as the Opposition. Many people have asked him to step aside, he has refused and even though there is now a formal challenge, he no doubt will receive a mandate again from the party members who seem, as does he, keener on ideological campaigning than winning an election.  If you feel so strongly about bringing about change – you need to be in government – how is that so difficult to understand?

I find it depressing beyond belief – even if I were a dyed-in-the-wool Tory, every Government needs challenge and this is not going to happen in any efficient way.

This brings me back to the beginning of this blog – it can’t work in a charity, even less in a business – unless you have the confidence of your colleagues you cannot go on.  They don’t have to like you but do have to think you are up to the job.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Supermarkets killed the high street – immigrants revived it

I must start with a caveat – I can only speak about London and then probably only those parts with an immigrant community – the high street is doing well.

When we moved here in the 1960s the complaint was that supermarkets were killing the corner shops. I wasn’t very surprised – they were pretty dingy and not open for very long. Mind you, the supermarkets weren’t much better.  I remember that Sainsbury’s in Swiss Cottage opened at lunch-time on Monday, early closing day was, I think Thursday, and then closed at lunch-time on Saturday – and they were only open till about five or six o’clock. There was a milk dispensing machine outside the tube station if you needed milk at the weekend, unless you could get to a kosher shop on Sunday.

I used to shop at Coopers Fine Fare - long since gone – they were open until 7 pm which meant that I could shop on the way home from work.  We had the tiniest fridge and a freezer that held two ice-trays – barely enough for a brick of ice-cream (remember those?).

The corner shops did close and then Asians came from Kenya and Uganda and they started opening again – and they were open long hours.  They sold mainly cigarettes, sweets and packaged foods – not too much in the way of fresh food. Many of them moved on – their children who had helped in the shops, were now doctors, dentists, pharmacists, lawyers, accountants – and the shops had paid for all that.

In North London there are still the kosher shops – butchers, fishmongers and bakeries.  But now our high street has even more small shops – despite the dreadful supermarket “local” shops. Added to the Asian there are now Middle Eastern and Polish.  If I want fresh herbs I can get a big bunch of coriander for the same price as a few wisps from the supermarket; a box of cherries is half the price of a kilo from the supermarket and every exotic spice and ingredient is there.  The lamb (halal of course) is amazing and the chicken comes in small winglets ready for a tagine. And of course the Polish shop has lovely chocolate covered plums.

A memory springs to mind: there is a very small parade of shops near where we live. When our children were small there used to be a little sweet shop which absorbed a fair amount of their pocket money. It was run by a Chinese woman and had been there long before we arrived in the late seventies. One day I went into the shop to hear her tell a customer that she was closing down. She said “this shop has raised my family and educated my children and now that they have finished university I can stop”.

These immigrants – they come here and make successes of their lives!!!

Friday, 8 July 2016

Small pleasant things

I have spent the last two weeks veering between rage and sadness about what is happening in the UK. Today did not start off well – I turned on the news to see an interview with a young woman from a Polish family – the eldest of four children – whose large garden shed has been set alight in the middle of the night. Someone had left an anonymous note (words cut out of newspapers and stuck on paper) “go home it will be your house next”.  They have been in this country for many years and lived in their house for nine years and work hard.

What struck me was as much as the awfulness of what had happened was the way she emphasised how wonderful the police and fire service had been, how reassuring they had been and supportive. She was then asked about other issues and spoke of verbal abuse to the children calmly, other incidents in the Polish community and how they try to deal with them rather than go to the police. Coming from apartheid South Africa in the 1960s – a country that had much to be ashamed of – I was so proud when I became a British citizen. I am embarrassed by what some of my countrymen are doing.

With this on my mind, I went on the Underground and changed trains at Kings Cross – a very busy station. There were several empty seats on the train and when I sat down I noticed that there was a ‘not so young’ man of Asian appearance sitting holding his walking stick in the seat reserved for “those less able to stand” which he clearly was. He had dozed off and next to him was an empty seat and his shoulder bag had slipped down onto the seat so no one could sit there. I waited to see if someone would wake him and ask him to move it (hopefully politely – you never know in the current climate).  More and more people got onto the train – of all colours and speaking all different languages – and stood: everyone looked and no one said anything. His bag remained on the seat.  This went on for five stops and then he woke and got off. London didn’t let me down.

I then went to the Barbican Library – I joined years ago soon after it opened, left when I left work and rejoined earlier this year. If you go during the working day it is peaceful; the book selection is amazing and the staff wonderful. 


I normally go another route but this time went from Barbican Station along the walkway to the High Walk and was stunned to find a series of beautiful wild gardens in the midst of all the brick, concrete and glass.  I hope there are beehives nearby – they would have a wonderful time.

Came home calm and restored.