Christina Patterson: The dark heart of British democracy

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It's easily done. You're in a lift with your colleagues and then someone from the canteen or the kitchen gets in and suddenly you can't finish the conversation you're having, and you can't say anything to them, obviously, and so you just happen to mention to your colleagues that cleaners and catering staff shouldn't be allowed to come in that particular lift and then, well, the woman gets all uppity. Chases you down the corridor, actually, and claims to be an MP. How were you meant to know?

Or, you're having a cup of tea on the terrace and the same thing happens. Cleaner, caterer, secretary, who knows? Anyway, clearly not a member. And the next thing you know you're being quoted in some collection of ultra-worthy essays on "race and gender in ethnic minority women's lives". Can't wait to read that one. I mean, don't these people have other things to think about? Families? Tennis? Expenses?

As the Tory MP David Heathcote-Amory said, in response to the honourable member for Brent South's paranoid portrayal of this trivial little incident, "they" are "quite sensitive about this kind of thing" and think that "any kind of reprimand from anyone is racially motivated". In fact, anyone knows that "we are exaggeratedly courteous to anyone with a different skin colour". Well, you would be, wouldn't you?

Yes, you would if you were a Victorian explorer venturing into some heart of darkness where you'd been told that the natives were cannibals. Or perhaps if you were Boris Johnson trying to win "the black vote", or the Home Secretary nipping out for a kebab. Or if you were a middle-aged white man who has spent all his school years, and his professional life, in the company of upper-middle-class white males.

If, for example, you lived in a city in which nearly 30 per cent of the population were non-white, but you weren't quite sure what they were for. Some of them could clean and cook and some of them could probably drive buses (not for you, obviously, or your wife, who gets cabs to the supermarket), but what about the others? Sport? That hip-hop your son keeps talking about? The dole?

Anyway, "they" wouldn't fit in. They wouldn't really get the traditions – the way you get to cheer your guy, just like you cheered Frogger in school rugby, the way you get to jeer when one of those little squirts on the opposition (or that one-eyed fatso) bores for Britain. They wouldn't get the whip (probably think it was a cat o' nine tails!) and they wouldn't get Black Rod (bet you'd have to rename him) or the Serjeant at Arms. Most of all, they wouldn't get honour. It all works on honour. Expenses. Votes. A quiet word to the wise.

Yes, it really is as bad as this. As America ponders the prospect of its first black president, Britain can barely produce a football team of non-white MPs. Fifteen out of 646. And it's simply a fact that cultures ruled by middle-aged white men do not change organically. Sweden did not get 47 per cent of women MPs without a bit of effort. Zapatero did not get a female-dominated cabinet by sticking with the Spanish status quo. This is a high mountain to climb, but it's not – as certain Tory politicians seem to think – like sending a man to the moon.

Meanwhile, in the canteens of this country, there are people who could tell us more about the challenges of globalisation, and immigration, and rigged elections, and the impact of bio-fuels, than most of these plump white men put together. Some of whom are not fit to lick their shoes – or even share their lift.

Weeping for the wizards

Look, she made a lot of children – and their parents – very happy. She's against child poverty. She weeps over Darfur. She even got boys reading books. But really.

The image of J K Rowling fighting off tears to protect her little coterie of wizards and warlocks, and whatever else lurks in the basements of boarding schools, from the wiles of some nerd in an attic who has published a guide to her work involves imaginative leaps in an entirely different league from hers.

Yes, the woman who has made more than £545m from her Harry Potter franchise told a New York courtroom that it was "very difficult for someone who is not a writer" to understand the unfathomable depths of her pain. Quite.

* They're nice enough, but you can't really trust them. Hormones all over the shop. Time of the month, etc. Fine for a bit of decoration, and perhaps a bit of chit-chat, but you wouldn't want to put them in charge, would you?

Unfortunate, then, that we have indeed put them in charge, not just of the world's governments (see above) but also of the world's economies. According to new research at Cambridge (let's forget the monkeys and go straight for the real human McCoy) there's a clear correlation between testosterone and dosh. City traders with the highest testosterone levels were, according to the study, the most likely to make money. They were also the most likely – as aggression gave way to irrational risk and then a cortisol slump – to lose it. Finally, a solution to boom and bust and the burst bubbles of boys and their broken toys. Just a little prick. It won't hurt a bit.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

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