In spite of a reputation for invention and innovation, Britain has slipped down the rankings of countries producing successful entrepreneurs, according to a new report compiled by researchers at Imperial College London and the London School of Economics. And one of the reasons we’re now below the US, Australia, Sweden, Denmark and Finland is because there aren’t enough ambitious women; negative attitudes from management are inhibiting our potential.
To me, that means we need quotas and affirmative action. Women remain this country’s underused asset and nowhere is that more apparent than in Westminster. This week, one of the very few ambitious females who had managed to clamber up the slippery pole of power was forced to resign from the Cabinet – only to be replaced by a man.
To be honest, the main reason that this rankles is because the new Culture Secretary – Sajid Javid – is even less interested in the arts than the previous incumbent, and Maria Miller was shamefully lacklustre. One of her more appalling statements was to demand that the arts be evaluated in terms of “economic benefit”. She managed to prevent cuts to her budget at the same time as failing to wave the flag and attract more private patronage for our arts.
I never once saw her enthuse about her brief. I wonder how often she goes to the theatre or opera. In a country that has spawned Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stewart, Dame Judi Dench and Hilary Mantel, our official crusader for the wondrous and the challenging came across as a cautious Waitrose shopper from Reigate.
Meanwhile, Woman’s Hour this week proudly unveiled its annual female power list with Doreen Lawrence feted as “game-changer of the year”. I declined to be a judge – well-meaning lists like these don’t persuade more women to enter politics or get appointed to FTSE boards, and that’s all I care about. Lists will leave equally worthy people out, and rankings trivialise achievement.
Mind you, all the wonderful women on the list, from campaigners to distinguished doctors, are more qualified to run Britain than anyone in the Cabinet. You could hardly make a list of female “game-changers” in government, could you?
Last week, I presented Loose Women with the singer Jamelia – so intelligent and grounded – but I was shocked to hear that she’s never bothered to vote because, she says, there’s nobody she can relate to. If a young, black, high-achiever thinks that, democracy is in big trouble.
Sajid Javid is the son of immigrants, a former banker, a rich bloke who drives a £35,000 car, and someone for whom one feels this job is just a stepping stone to greater things. Good luck to him, but he’s not going to connect with young women like Jamelia or persuade one teenager to register to vote.
In the world of the arts, there are dozens of capable women like Jude Kelly, the artistic director of the Southbank Centre, who could be ministers. Why shouldn’t the post go to someone outside the political system?
The arts (and sport) are the only unifying elements that glue our country together. We sing, laugh, play sport and cheer together. Sport and the arts see us through times of crisis and joy, times of celebration and mourning. We are world class at them, so why do these key elements of the economy get to be run by yet another ambitious, professional politician?
The Maria Miller scandal dragged on because politicians still “didn’t get” the depth of public anger over the way politicians look after each other. The appointment of Mr Javid reveals they still don’t get the message.
Affordable baby dungarees? At £75, only if you’re a royal
Although Kate and William like to pretend they are like the common people, the choice of a £75 pair of dungarees for Prince George sent out all the wrong messages. One newspaper called the dungarees “affordable” – not in my Yorkshire village. I don’t know many farmers’ wives or school dinner ladies or nurses who would spend £75 on an item of clothing for a fast-growing infant. One fashion expert said the outfit demonstrated “understated good taste”. I thought it screamed: “I’m posh – get over it.”
A teddy with a coned bra could only be Gaultier’s
My mother was distraught when I tore the arms off the naff pink dolly I received for my sixth birthday. The torso and severed limbs were swiftly dispatched to the Doll’s Hospital, off Fulham Broadway in west London, for emergency repairs. When the repulsive object was returned a few weeks later, I butchered her again. Luckily, Dad got the message and soon I was the proud owner of a Meccano set.
Toys really shape our childhood dreams and aspirations – which is wonderfully evident at the fabulous exhibition of Jean Paul Gaultier’s work at the Barbican in London. Gaultier is one of fashion’s most effervescent talents, an uplifting force of nature, an inspired communicator and a wonderful tailor. The exhibition is full of fun and erotica and naughtiness as well as showcasing artistry and craft of the highest order.
Like me, Jean Paul was obviously a bit of a troubled child. One of the most poignant exhibits is of his teddy bear, Nana, wearing a bra he made out of newsprint and paper doilies, the face painted with his grandmother’s lipstick and eye make-up. Like Grayson Perry and his bear Alan Measles, Nana played a key role in Jean Paul’s creative life, eventually inspiring the gold cone bra and corsetry worn by Madonna.
This show (on until 25 August) also reveals just how much British designer Alexander McQueen owed to Gaultier. Time for a reappraisal?
Ayoade’s ‘The Double’ is a singular delight
Fans know Richard Ayoade as nerdy Moss from The IT Crowd, but these days he’s more interested in making a name for himself as a film director. His latest movie, The Double, is engrossing.
It brilliantly captures a grim (future?) world where identity and aspirations are quashed by the state. Loosely based on a Dostoyevsky novel, the story centres on a self-effacing office worker Simon James (played by Jesse Eisenberg) who can’t get anywhere with the woman of his dreams. He is trapped in a mind-numbing existence of clerical mediocrity.
When the ebullient, confident James Simon (who looks spookily similar) appears in his office and impresses the boss, humble Simon James’s life changes for ever. I admire Ayoade for making an ambitious film on a budget. The acting and art direction are superb. For sheer chutzpah, it reminds me of Duncan Jones’s Moon.
Low-budget films with a big agenda are always worth seeing. It slightly runs out of steam, but that’s not important. Well done, Richard, for making a British film that’s not about gangsters, or about unmarried young women living in council flats, or about a bunch of druggies, or that’s a celebration of modern lads.