The dazzling wit that puts women in their place

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The Independent Online
IN AN uncharacteristic burst of charm, the panellists on The Moral Maze turned the last in the series into a parody of itself. The programme has lately become an ego- fest, no longer anything to do with morality, only with tendentious pronouncements about current affairs. But Roger Scruton, Edward Pearce and the rest sent themselves up delightfully on Thursday. They were childishly insulting to their guests and paid no attention to anything they said, continuing to chortle among themselves when the guests were speaking. An Oxford don noted that her university churns out cures for infectious diseases, and someone sniggered that it also turns out the diseases, a clever satire on the humour of The Moral Maze.

The topic for 'discussion' was why there are so few women in management. Roger Scruton insisted that, actually, there are too many, and they ought to be stopped. The reasoning appeared to be that it would make him feel better. Edward Pearce concluded with the triumphant flourish of a man who has just produced an incontrovertible trump card. You couldn't have women at all levels of management up and down the country, he said: it was absurd. I only hope everyone listening appreciated the subtle ironies. If not, they might have felt sick.

MY personality, for one, is much too complex and interesting to be reduced to a few pages of multiple choice questions. Yet psychometric testing, which supposedly offers a scientific assessment of both ability and personality, is now widely used to judge applicants' suitability for jobs. I'm sure that as with those 'Are You Sex Mad?' questionnaires in women's magazines, there must always be a temptation to give the sicko answer: '(d) the manacles'. If I'm absolutely honest, I always end up in these surveys in the group second from last, the one where the psychologist starts off: 'Well, you need to pull your socks up.'

So I'm pleased that a student with a dazzling academic record has been granted leave to appeal against exclusion from bar school after psychometric testing. Even the simple ability tests seem suspect: British Rail turned down a number of guards' applications to become drivers after tests showed their verbal skills weren't good enough. Then someone noticed they needed fewer verbal skills to be drivers than for their existing jobs. But the idea of a scientific test of personality is just eccentric. And as Steve Blinkhorn and Charles Johnson point out in the April issue of the Psychologist, there's no proven link between test scores and subsequent job performance. 'Going on tests and training courses is like getting a badge in the boy scouts for personnel officers,' says Blinkhorn. Ha] I thought so: this is just personnel officers pretending they do a proper job.

I HAVE long been looking for some real, live political correctness. As one who might reasonably be expected to benefit from any compensations - a vertically-

challenged woman - PC seems to me something that ought to be got out of the newspapers and onto the streets. But I looked in vain, until last week. And then I found some, and it turned out to be not at all what I'd had in mind.

I discover that I agree with Prince Charles that we're suffering from 'an approach to life which seeks to denigrate, decry and destroy . . . a cynicism about our national life.' But Charles' and my agreement on this point is rather ironic, because his speech was where I found the political correctness, and precisely the virus-like attitude that he describes. The Prince has taken against what he describes as the 'avant-garde', which he says has dominated for too long: it's time for traditions to have their turn again. I fear if Charles is allowed to have his way, school children will no longer be able to discuss the possibility that the monarchy might be an anachronism, or that there might be more than one way of reading Middlemarch. These things are traditional, and so beyond thought.

Now I realise that this political correctness plague is spreading, getting a grip on some of our most important institutions. John Major and 'back to basics', then Paul Johnson and Wake Up Britain], now Prince Charles plaintively telling us we have 'so little respect for any authority whatsoever'. Before we know where we are, the PC thought police will be banning words like 'republican' and 'intellectual' and forcing everyone to drink warm beer and listen to early editions of The Goon Show.

Right-thinking people everywhere should resist this attempt to corral our thought and speech. What's wrong with healthy disrespect for the status quo? Which reminds me: Prince Charles quoted the final lines of Middlemarch, about unmarked graves and the goodness done in private, as if to imply that such is the life to which we should all aspire. But I've always read those words as a kind of dying fall. Dorothea is allowed happiness; but her ardour to do good in the world, to change things - the quality for which we have learnt to love her - is defeated. By the weight of tradition.

SUCH endearing people, East End villains. They may go round slashing people and putting on the frighteners and nicking and thieving. They may hang around with the kind of women who refer to their rivals in an unsisterly fashion as peroxide dwarves who don't even have their own hair, as Ronnie Knight's current wife said of his previous wife, Barbara Windsor, last week. They may live in vulgar villas in Spain. But they do love their old mums. Reggie and Ronnie Kray were so devoted to theirs that they did their best not to leave home, other than to commit the odd murder and, more recently, go to prison. And now Ronnie Knight insists he hasn't come back to Britain after 11 years abroad because he's run out of money, but to see his mum. This devotion extends to great delicacy about her age. 'My old mum, Nellie, is 86 and very ill with Parkinson's disease,' he told the Sun 10 years ago. 'She's 87, has Parkinson's disease, and her mind is wandering,' he was quoted as saying last week.