Susan Greenfield

Labour Party

I have followed the Susan Greenfield story with a heavy heart.  The Royal Institution, for a long time famous for little other than being a stuffy old boys’ club, had appeared with Susan’s appointment to see the light.  A top scientist and superb media performer, she hit the spot.  The image of the Royal Institution was transformed and science made interesting for ordinary mortals.

Yet she has been removed from her post of Director, made redundant supposedly in order to save money.  Susan’s decision to sue for sex discrimination is a brave one. I, and I am sure many other women, are right behind her.  I somehow doubt if she would have been treated in such a fashion had she been a man, a member of the stuffy old boys’ club.

At the time Jaqui Smith was facing undue and unjust criticism in her role as Home Secretary but before her expenses problems became public, I blogged that I believed she was being hounded because she was a high profile woman and that the charges against her would never have been made against a man.  I cited two other examples of such sexism which I had seen at close quarters during the 1990s – Ros Hepplewhite, the first Chief Executive of the Child Support Agency and Director of Public Prosecutions, Barbara Mills.  Both these women resigned after campaigns against them which seemed to me to be very unfair.   

Now it’s Susan Greenfield’s turn.  It certainly seems as if there are those within the august Royal Institution who want her gone.  Although not voiced openly, I’m sure jealousy is at work somewhere.  Susan has built a media profile and become almost a household name, something I doubt the majority of her detractors could do.  The fact that she has put their formerly dusty organisation on the map and brought science to the people is neither here nor there for such fuddy-duddies.

I speak from some experience.  I ran a professional body, the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, in the mid 1990s, an organisation which, incidentally no longer exists as it was deemed to be unnecessary after the government reorganised the probation service.   Not having a background in probation, I was an outside appointment given the task of getting more media coverage.  This I did, and then met with hostility rather than thanks for doing the job I was asked to do.

It’s still very tough for those women who do make it to the very top.  It’s tough to get there and tough to stay.  Try being good at your job and ruffling feathers and you may end up saying goodbye to the very position you worked so hard to get.  Susan, you have my wholehearted support and I wish you all the luck in the world.


Labour Party, Women's Rights

While I would not normally comment on speculation in the “Sun” newspaper

I feel it’s necessary today as the report may have some bearing on the European elections.

According to Political Editor George Pascoe-Watson both Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears are in line to be demoted from the Cabinet after the June 4 poll, my election in other words. Gordon Brown is, according to the “Sun”, going to drop these two women to improve his general election chances.

Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears

Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears

The Prime Minister’s choice of ministerial colleagues is obviously a matter for him. What I am concerned about is the treatment both Jacqui and Hazel have received leading up to Gordon Brown’s potential reshuffle – a reshuffle which will take place after what, as the “Sun” puts it, will be Labour’s ‘drubbing in the polls’. Thank you George. I really appreciate being told I’m facing melt down.

Both Jacqui and Hazel have, I believe, been hounded far more than any man in their position would have been. Jacqui has been made a scapegoat for the vagaries of the present system of MPs’ expenses, allowing commentators to then attack her performance as Home Secretary. Hazel, on the other hand, has faced a continual barrage of low level sniping.

Neither woman has deserved this treatment. They have both performed as well as most of their Cabinet colleagues. I suspect Jacqui Smith was singled out for particular scrutiny regarding her allowances and private life in a way most other members of the Cabinet were not. When an individual is targeted, things often come out. I defy anyone in politics to be so pure that they automatically survive the driven snow test.

The reason Jacqui has been picked out and Hazel ridiculed? They are both women. I remember when I worked for “Gingerbread”, the lone parent charity in the early 1990s, two high profile women suffered the same treatment. Barbara Mills, the then Director of Public Prosecutions, and the former Chief Executive of the Child Support Agency, Ros Hepplewhite, were pursued at every possible opportunity. Eventually they both left their posts.

Dame Barbara Mills

Dame Barbara Mills

I would have hoped that 15 years on things may have changed. Sadly not. Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears are the unfortunate successors of Barbara and Ros.