Sarah Sands: It's tough, it's mean, it's the City. And it's been trumped


If you are going to insult someone then, do it with flourish. Mel Gibson's plastered reproach to a female police officer - "What are you looking at, sugar tits?" - has a suicidal bravado to it.

The insults from female colleagues to the Deutsche Bank secretary Helen Green were as low grade as her £800,000 pay-out in the courts last week was high. "What's that stink over there?" is not Dorothy Parker. Offices tend to operate on smooth treachery rather than girl gangs. The language in this case was much closer to the sort of cyber-bullying you get on children's social networking sites, such as Bebo, than to a working environment.

The impression that we have had of Helen Green is of a classic victim of sexual abuse - fragile, troubled, complex, vulnerable and manipulative. She brought to Deutsche Bank all the emotional drama of the therapist's couch. I imagine that the bank had written her off like a bad debt. Sometimes one of your employees turns out to be a basket case. What can you do?

Not so fast. There is a cool-headedness about Ms Green which should frighten the life out of the City. This is more than a payout, it is a campaign. In her interview with the IoS she says, "All City businesses will have to do more than pay lip service to this hidden menace." Suddenly, Helen Green is the Joan of Arc of the bullied. Worse, she has decided to take a degree in organisational behaviour.

She has the cause and she will impose the infrastructure. The Little Miss Muffet who cried in the lavatories because her colleagues blew raspberries at her is demanding a cleansing of City culture and businesses everywhere. Private-sector offices are not yet fully-functioning democracies. People are holed up like hostages together for swathes of their lives. Everyone knows that one of you is next in line to get whacked, and yet everyone must behave as if these conditions are perfectly normal. Once feelings intrude on office life, everything goes to pieces. Detachment is the only way to get through.

The City is a hyper version of other offices. The hours are long, the tempers are short and the place throbs with testosterone. These are not doctors and nurses. They are baboons. It is survival of the fittest. And interestingly, this may not turn out to be the kind of alpha males whose image has taken a battering from the Enron scandal, but women who see which way the wind is blowing.

Helen Green was clearly out of place at Deutsche Bank but she was of her time. She was smart enough to realise that the rights industry can trump the toughest, meanest, business in the land. I have seen mighty CEOs crumble at the word "diversity" or the phrase "sexual harassment". The personal relations industry is now rampant in offices. Everyone has a right to talk about themselves, to be fulfilled, to have stress-free lives.

Of course, one would prefer people to be happy and to get on, but that is not the primary purpose of working, which is to work. How much better for Green to have been forged in steel by the unkindness of her colleagues. Her dignity would have done for them. I would rather that women triumph in the workplace through their talents and wits than the crushing paraphernalia of the courts. But if that is her chosen weapon, so be it.

His buttocks were taut and manly. Where had I seen them before?

We should, of course, applaud the magnificent honesty of the late Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who chose seven of her own recordings for Desert Island Discs.

I love the East European lofty refusal to take oneself lightly. I saw the Bolshoi Ballet perform Swan Lake last week. The female lead, Svetlana Zakharova, finished each of her dances by collapsing into a curtsy at the front of the stage. At the end, she took so many curtain calls that members of the audience were crawling out of the auditorium on their hands and knees. Modesty is an overrated quality.

Nevertheless, I found myself distracted by the male lead, Ruslan Skvortsov. His bottom was familiar. I suddenly realised where I had seen those muscular buttocks before - they were identical to Madonna's. For Madonna, pushing 50, to have acquired the lower torso of a Russian male youth is an achievement. She is pure will, pure discipline.

The cost of war: Politicians claim the high ground, but children die

A hard aspect of war is reconciling the killing of children with the moral high ground.

The British love Winston Churchill because we do not doubt the rightness of the two world wars. His moral certainty only wavered once - over Dresden - and not over the atomic bomb.

In the Iraq war, our motives were good - democracy is better than tyranny - but we have made things tragically worse for the Iraqi people. It was classic liberal arrogance.

Over Afghanistan, I believe we had no choice. I remember standing on Fifth Avenue on 11 September and hearing people connect the words Pearl Harbor, bin Laden and Afghanistan. In June, I visited British troops in Helmand. They knew they did not have the numbers to defeat the Taliban or eradicate the poppy.

The strategy was one of "inkspots": widespread cheering dots of harmony and good works which could encourage Afghans to choose democracy over a Taliban police state. Now it looks as if the inkspots could turn into bloodstains.

So I was shocked that John Humphrys asked the Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, if our mission in Afghanistan was comparable to the behaviour of the Israelis in Lebanon.

Is it disproportionate force to send a couple of Apache helicopters and a Harrier jet to save Gurkhas under siege from the Taliban? Are we causing mayhem carrying our troops in shuddering, aged Chinook helicopters to perform Scout tasks in isolated villages, not knowing if the farmer wants to shake your hand or to chuck an RPG at you? The trouble with Iraq and Afghanistan is that these are not wars fought on battlefields but among civilian populations. The arc of extremism can run right through people's houses.

That is the terrible pity of it.

Janet Street-Porter is away

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