My pinup this week is Tory MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, who, in spite of being a relative newcomer to the House (elected 2010), has kept up a steady stream of criticism (via Twitter) of her white, male bosses ever since she arrived.
Dr Wollaston is unusual in politics – she worked for years as a doctor and teacher, was chosen through an "open primary" not via the usual clubby selection committee process, and freely admitted she had no background in politics, only joining the Tory party in 2006. Amazingly, she doubled the Tory majority, taking 48 per cent of the vote!
Surely, people like Sarah offer exactly the kind of input grounded in life experience that David Cameron needs to connect with the electorate. Instead, he surrounds himself with people who flatter, and the "chumocracy" continues to grow – there are now 12 old Etonians at the heart of government, from advisers to Cabinet ministers.
On hearing of the latest promotion, Sarah tweeted "words fail me…I'm not asked for policy advice, but just in case…there are other schools [and] some of them even admit women". In March, she was reprimanded for complaining on Twitter that Cameron's inner circle was "posh, male and white". She was unrepentant, saying the PM should promote more women, and more women would become MPs if they could job share.
Last week's election result should send a message to Cameron: start to listen to mouthy women like Sarah Wollaston.
Table talk is depressing
There's a new star at the National Theatre – a whacky building that's been deposited in front of the main concrete bunker. The Shed, right, designed by Haworth Tompkins, is clad in strips of bright red planking and looks exactly like an upturned table, which is apposite, as the first production in this temporary replacement for the Cottesloe, is a play entitled Table by Tanya Ronder.
Sadly, the drama, which has an ingenious structure – telling a complex social history through the life and times of a simple dining table – isn't quite as exhilarating or rewarding as the building. If only one of the main characters hadn't revealed the story behind some of the marks of the tabletop early on. After that, I'm afraid, this sombre and unrelentingly miserable saga couldn't hold my attention. A cast of nine magically turn into 23 characters, which can be confusing at times, but the sound design, which ranges from snatches of Swahili to jazz and solemn calls to prayer, is wonderful.
A poll published last week indicates the dining table may soon be an antique. Nearly a third of those polled admitted to using it just a few times a year. A table stands for civility, conversation and enjoyment of simple pleasures. A depressing sign of the times?
Boots and boys' toys for girls
Boots has had its knuckles rapped over sexist labelling. Toys produced by the Science Museum were displayed in a section marked for boys, and when customers complained on Facebook, the chain claimed the signage wasn't reinforcing stereotypes, but was designed to make its stores "easier to navigate".
Ironically, the museum hosted an event recently, celebrating "women in science", which coincided with International Women's Day. After it was contacted by an angry shopper who objected to "boy's toys", it telephoned Boots who apologised and quickly "updated" its displays.
If Boots wants to support women and science, and careers in pharmacy (as it claims), perhaps it should sponsor an event at the Science Museum and invite along customers' daughters?
After disappointing local election results, and with a growing chorus of discontent from his backbench MPs, what will be David Cameron's legacy? The Big Society has turned into a damp squib. In spite of fighting talk, the PM backed down on minimum pricing for alcohol when almost every medical professional wanted it. Now, he's procrastinating over enforcing plain packaging for cigarettes and it won't be included in the Queen's Speech.
One Cameron initiative that does seem to be going from strength to strength is the annoyingly named "nudge unit". It has been judged so successful that there are plans to privatise the think tank. The Government will hold a stake of a third, another will be held by the boffins who devised the nudging (currently 13 economists and psychologists, led by Dr David Halpern who is paid around £100,000 a year), and the Cabinet Office has announced a competition to find a commercial investor. How do you judge the success of this unit?
Yes, their income tax reminder letters, which tell you how many people in your postcode have already paid, saw a rise of 15 per cent in prompt payments. Yes, texting people who hadn't paid court fines, saw 33 per cent more cough up. Yes, they might have improved visits to selected Jobcentres. But some job centre visitors have complained they were made to fill in a bizarre test called My Strengths – in which you have to classify your "love of learning", "curiosity", and reveal if you have "made a thing of beauty in the past year".
Other nudge initiatives include telling London hoteliers to use smaller plates in buffets to cut the amount of food waste.
If the Cabinet included an acceptable level of women and people who'd worked in the real world, this kind of thing would be adopted as plain common sense.
Yes to tags
Is tagging dementia patients an infringement of their human rights? Sussex Police is the first force in the country planning to issue GPS tracking devices to dementia patients, claiming it will save huge amounts of money and time, not to mention manpower, currently spent on searches. The system allows family and friends to log on and track exactly where a patient is at any time. The scheme has been piloted in Chichester, with 15 people wearing the devices, costing around £400 a month. If successful, it will be rolled it out across the county.
Some pensioners' rights groups have complained, calling the proposals "inhumane". I disagree. One Sunday morning a few years ago, I saw an elderly lady struggling along the beach in her nightie in Whitstable. She seemed a bit confused, so we invited her in for a cup of tea, and saw she was wearing a tag with a phone number on it. Soon, her son turned up and took her home, and he has campaigned since for dementia sufferers to wear tracking devices as a way of giving them freedom and a dignified existence for as long as possible. It's hardly bracketing the elderly with tagged criminals.
The National Pensioners Convention can moan, but this simple idea allows more personal freedom, not less. When it's my turn to be tagged, please turn off that irritating female voice – that's all I ask.Reuse content