Terence Blacker: Ed Stourton and the new brutalism

Unkind, idiotic mindgames now surround the redundancy process

Related Topics

Since the dawning of the age of sentimentality, which probably took place in that year of Blair and tears, 1997, there has been a self-consciously caring attitude towards employment. Staff and personnel have become valued human resources, whose individuality and rights are valued and protected.

A vast industry has developed around the increasingly complex area of employment law. Industrial tribunals are busier than ever. Organisations, public and private, have taken to issuing codes of practice about values, respect and diversity. "Ethical employment" and "corporate responsibility" are managerial buzzwords of the moment.

The events of the past few weeks have revealed how bogus this boastful spirit of concern is. The great human resources revolution has been a sham. Now that hard times have hit – that is, the moment when decency is most needed – employers have behaved, if anything, worse that they have done in the past.

The 2008 method of managing staff is swift, insensitive and, wherever possible, indirect. The BBC has just provided an example of modern executive practice by getting rid of a senior presenter by rumour. Last Thursday, Ed Stourton, a corporation man for 20 years, the last 10 of which he has spent as co-presenter of the Today programme, was rung by a journalist who asked if it were true that he had been fired. When he rang his editor, Stourton was told that he was indeed to be replaced. Put on the spot, the BBC elected to lie, claiming – falsely, according to the soon to be ex-presenter – that he was leaving to "pursue other interests".

The crass behaviour of employers in television and the press is no worse than that in any other sector – indeed, Stourton has been treated much more gently than employees in the rough world of commerce – but it tends to get wider, and more heartfelt media coverage. As jobs are lost, there is enough of a wider pattern in the way employers behave to suggest that redundancy is being handled rather worse than it was in the days of Thatcherite brutalism.

The new style of management is marked by a cold, bean-counting mentality. The codes of practice and the prattle about employment ethics have often meant that unkind, idiotic mind-games surround dismissal; the spectre of litigation has meant more, not less, callousness in the way employees lose their jobs. It is as if work has become so obsessively important that there is no connection between the office or factory and the outside world. Different standards pertain; the effects of unemployment on lives, marriages, children, health and sanity barely percolate into the world of work. From there, the person stripped of a job is not only less important, but also less human.

The moral effect of this kind of heartlessness reaches beyond the workplace. It shows the experienced that loyalty is a one-way street, that selfishness is the only way forward. The young discover that you can be as graceless as you like but, so long as the letter of the law has been obeyed and the right meaningless words intoned, then ethics can go hang.

Somewhere along the line, managers may also have lost the knack of communicating with people. The words, emailed, texted and Blackberried into their lives around the clock, have become a sort of white noise, engaging one part of the brain while more important decisions are made elsewhere. For this new kind of employer – bureaucratic, ambitious, viewing and communicating with the world through a computer screen – a job is a statistic. The idea that an employee might depart with sympathy and dignity simply does not compute.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Support Analyst - London - £22,000

£20000 - £22000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chel...

Learning Support Assistants-Nantwich area

£8 - £9 per hour: Randstad Education Chester: We are currently recruiting for ...

Primary Teachers-Northwich area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Teachers- Northwich Ar...

Primary Teachers-Northwich area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Teachers- Northwich Ar...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The reactions to Renee Zellweger's face say more about us than about her

Emma Gannon
US Secretary of State John Kerry  

When only 4 per cent of those killed by US drone strikes are named members of al-Qaeda, it's hard to trust American foreign policy

Abigail Fielding-Smith
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London