Man With No Shame tells NHS chiefs: Take a redundancy payoff and then come back to work
NHS executives facing the axe are in line for bumper redundancy payoffs – and could walk back into Health Service jobs within a month, it has emerged.
Sir David Nicholson wrote to staff whose posts will go as part of the health reforms explaining that they can be rehired by the NHS after four weeks.
Many managers are set for six-figure payoffs when they are made redundant next month. Some are expected to receive more than £450,000.
However, Sir David has urged them to wait at least six months before returning to work to avoid ‘reputational damage’ to the NHS.
Yesterday it also emerged that 400 managers currently employed by the NHS earn more than the Prime Minister, who is on £142,500.
Tory MP Nigel Ellis, who obtained the figures, said: ‘I accept that a person in a position of responsibility will need to be properly remunerated.
‘But for 400 managers to be paid more than the Prime Minister who has responsibility for running the country is ludicrous.’
But the revelation that those being made redundant could walk straight into new jobs – at a time when the NHS is under unprecedented financial pressure – is sure to fuel anger among patients.
The letter is also further evidence that Sir David is presiding over a culture of secrecy within the NHS.
It states: ‘I would ask these individuals to be mindful of this and of the possible reputational damage to themselves and to the NHS should they seek to gain paid employment or consultancy work in the NHS soon after they receive their redundancy payments.’
Already Sir David is suspected of presiding over a regime whereby hospitals routinely fiddle their figures and whistleblowers – such as Gary Walker, who said he was sacked as chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust because of a row over an 18-week non-emergency waiting list target – are discouraged from speaking out.
Last night Tory MP Charlotte Leslie said: ‘The tone of this letter does very little to persuade anyone who has concerns that Sir David is encouraging a culture of cover-ups.
‘It confirms exactly what has been behind all the problems we have seen with the Mid Staffordshire scandal. The reaction is always to try and bury bad news.’
On April 1, thousands of managers and staff employed at Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities will be made redundant when these bodies are axed as part of the NHS reforms.
Yet many will be re-employed by new, GP-led groups or recently-formed organisations such as the NHS Commissioning Board or Public Health England.
Even so, the NHS is expected to spend more than a £1billion on their redundancy packages, with thousands of staff in line for six-figure sums. This is despite the fact the Health Service is trying to save money, with hospitals rationing non-urgent treatments and slashing nursing posts.
Robert Oxley, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘It speaks volumes of the culture embodied by Sir David Nicholson that senior staff at the NHS are handed such huge pay-offs even if they may return only months later.
‘The NHS is overly bureaucratic with too many pen-pushers handed jobs for life. Cutting this bloated bureaucracy is vital but unnecessarily generous pay-offs will undermine efforts to trim the fat.
‘Ministers have forced the NHS to spend millions on managers’ pay-offs at the same time as thousands of nursing jobs are being axed. It’s a shameful waste of resources.’
Under NHS rules, managers will be given one month’s redundancy pay for every year they have worked.
One, Sir Neil McKay, the chief executive of Midlands and East Strategic Health Authority, is reportedly set for a package worth £465,000.
£1m an hour ‘lottery’ of NHS diabetes care: Thousands face complications including blindness, strokes and even death because of ‘shocking’ variations in treatment
Thousands of people with diabetes are being failed by ‘shocking variations’ in NHS treatment, warn MPs. The overall picture is of ‘poor, fragmented, expensive and patchy care’ despite £1million an hour being spent on diabetes by the NHS.
A new report by the All Party Parliamentary group for Diabetes (APPG) says failures are leading to devastating complications such as blindness, amputation and stroke, and premature deaths.
It found almost half of people with diabetes in England are not getting the nine annual checks recommended by the NHS, with some areas providing barely one in 20 patients with the whole range of checks.
The figures are worse for children, said the report, as 96 per cent don’t receive all the annual routine checks they should.
APPG chairman and Torbay MP Adrian Sanders said ‘Diabetes is one of the greatest challenges we face, yet diabetes healthcare is poor, patchy and expensive and too many people with the condition are not getting the care or support they desperately need.
‘It is completely unacceptable that barely half of people with diabetes are getting the nine checks and services recommended.
‘This postcode lottery of care is leading to devastating health conditions and premature death for many people with the condition.
‘I was moved by the powerful testimony of a person with diabetes who had lost part of his foot as a complication of diabetes’ he added.
The number of Britons diagnosed with diabetes has hit three million for the first time this year, according to figures released earlier this month.
Nine out of ten people with diabetes have type 2 which occurs when the body gradually loses the ability to process blood sugar, leading to high levels which can damage body organs and years of ill-health. The remainder have type 1 which needs insulin treatment.
Type 2 is strongly linked to lifestyle factors such as being overweight or obese, leading a sedentary lifestyle and eating an unhealthy diet.
Every year in England and Wales, 24,000 people with diabetes die earlier than expected.
The latest report, which took testimony from patients, NHS staff and experts, says diabetes costs the NHS over £10billion a year – around £1million an hour.
But eighty per cent goes on managing complications, many of which could be prevented, it says.
Mr Sanders, who has type 1 diabetes, said the group heard repeatedly from people who were not receiving nine basic annual checks including blood pressure and blood glucose.
‘Others did not know what checks they had or had not had, or had no record of the results of those checks’ he said.
The number of people receiving all nine checks ranged from six per cent to around 69 per cent depending on the area they lived.
The report found ‘shocking’ variations in levels of amputations – with the majority preventable through good care.
One on four people in nursing homes has diabetes, but many are undiagnosed, said the report.
It follows the Public Accounts Committee diabetes report that highlighted the “depressingly poor” state of diabetes healthcare.
Barbara Young, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said ‘Time and time again we hear about the depressingly poor state of diabetes healthcare, yet we are still waiting to hear how the Government intends to deal with what is fast becoming a crisis.
‘The Government must designate diabetes as a priority and commit to ensuring everyone with diabetes gets good quality care so that they can live long healthy lives.
‘This is why we welcome the All Party Parliament Group for Diabetes’ call for a national implementation plan for improved diabetes care.’
Karen Addington, chief executive of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, said ‘The Diabetes APPG’s specific demand for increased government funding into type 1 diabetes medical research, echoes our own call.
‘Type 1 diabetes is a serious and challenging condition that affects 400,000 UK children and adults – and cost the country £1.9 billion in 2011.
‘This research and its outcomes would not only improve the lives of those living with type 1 diabetes, but would also help protect the NHS from spiralling costs.’
Former boss of hospital being investigated over high death rates claims there is culture of ‘sheer bullying’ in the NHS
The former boss of a hospital which is being investigated over high death rates today described a culture of ‘sheer bullying’ in the NHS.
Gary Walker, former chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT), said he was threatened by East Midlands Strategic Health Authority (SHA) when he flagged up hospital capacity problems.
The whistleblower, who claimed he was sacked after raising concerns about patient safety, said he felt pressured by officials when he put the hospital on ‘red alert’ because it was almost full to capacity.
He said: ‘The response from the health authority was, “This is your problem – you need to meet the targets whatever the demand”.
‘It is a very dangerous thing to be trying to push through targets when hospitals are dangerously over full.’
Mr Walker, who was sacked in 2010 for ‘gross professional misconduct’ over alleged swearing at a meeting, said he was forced to quit after refusing to meet Whitehall targets for non-emergency patients and was gagged from speaking out as part of a settlement deal.
He added that in February 2009 he met Dame Barbara Hakin – who has been named interim chief operating officer of the NHS Commissioning Board – and ‘essentially certain threats were made to me like, “If you don’t deliver the targets then I won’t be able to protect you”. She denies the claims.
‘In essence there was a lot of pressure to deliver the targets and this was going to reflect on me as an individual if we didn’t meet those targets.
‘At the same time I am asking for a capacity review, for help, and the situation escalated, when the hospital became more and more full more and more threats were made.’
He said he prepared a presentation for the Department of Health about problems with hitting targets but was ordered to remove any reference to him calling for a capacity review.
He said: ‘If you upset the SHA, particularly the one I was working for, there would be repercussions for you. You work in that environment as best you can.
‘I spoke with other (hospital) chief executives and many of them, but not all, concurred with my view of the health authority that they were only ever interested if you’re going to suggest there is a problem anywhere, and they are very heavy-handed with how that problem is going to be resolved, so threats are made, people are told, “You realise the consequences if this doesn’t get done?”.
‘This isn’t proper management, this is just sheer bullying.’
The former chairman of the trust, David Bowles, added that there is a culture in the health service of ‘making things look good rather than being good’.
Mr Bowles, who also resigned in 2009, said the SHA deliberately hid financial troubles at the trust from senior Department of Health officials.
He said: ‘For whatever reason, the way the accounting system was running, (some) deficits were effectively doubled for a while because of strange quirks in the accounting system.
‘The Government realised it, decided to put it right, issued a press release saying: “These are the trusts that are affected, we are going to adjust their accounts by these amounts”.
‘ULHT should have been on that schedule and should have received compensation from the Government circa £11 million. We were not on that schedule.
‘When I raised it with my director of finance, I was told we were not on that schedule because this trust is not to receive a cash adjustment because the SHA did not wish to identify any trusts in the East Midlands as being financially challenged.
‘The very clear implication of that is that the financial distress in ULHT was being deliberately concealed from the centre to make the SHA look good.
‘It is a sign of that culture of not owning up to problems, not being transparent.
The trust is one of 14 being investigated by health chiefs over high mortality rates in the wake of the public inquiry report into serious failures at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.
Mr Bowles told the Health Select Committee: ‘If you read the Mid Staffs report it says things like “bullying, target driven priorities, denial” and it goes on and says this was not only in Mid Staffordshire – they collected evidence that it existed elsewhere and I can assure you it existed in this part of the health economy.
‘There is this deeply ingrained culture of making things look good rather than things actually being good.’
He said that the trust was at ‘tipping point’ but was told once again to ‘meet targets regardless of demand’.
He added: ‘I was in our situation rooms where staff were desperate for the next bed for an emergency patient and I’m being told, “treat your non urgent patients”.
‘I found that absolutely scandalous.’
Mr Bowles told MPs that staff were frightened to raise concerns about bullying for fear they might lose their jobs, adding: ‘If you look at Gary now, he blew the whistle, he has applied for 50 or 60 jobs and not got even one interview.
‘That is the culture you are dealing with here.’
Mr Bowles said the culture of bullying and fear in the NHS can only change if there are changes to the leadership.
He said: ‘There is too much evidence emerging that this was not just Mid Staffordshire and you have to look at who sets the overarching culture and that is set by Sir David Nicholson and I have to say that it is deeply ingrained.
‘I do not think you can change the culture of the NHS without changing its leaders.’
Mr Walker asked what under fire NHS boss Sir David has done in the last six years to promote whistle blowing in the health service.
‘As far as I can see, it is much, much worse now than it has ever been,’ he said.
Mr Walker also claimed that Dame Barbara Hakin, the former chief executive of the East Midlands SHA who is now the interim deputy chief of NHS Commissioning Board, authorised his pay off to protect herself, a claim she denies.
He said: ‘If it is the case that Barbara Hakin is responsible for that payment that is a very serious charge, potentially of misconduct, on the basis that you can’t use public money to silence matters of your own misconduct.’
He added: ‘This use of public money to cover up individual failings is a major problem.’
A spokesman for the East Midlands SHA, now part of NHS Midlands and East, said: ‘NHS Midlands and East, as the successor body for NHS East Midlands, has today presented evidence to the House of Commons Health Select Committee (HSC) on behalf of NHS East Midlands, which challenges the claim by Gary Walker, the former chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, that he raised patient safety concerns as a whistleblower.
‘The material makes it clear that it was NHS East Midlands, the strategic health authority (now part of NHS Midlands and East), which was concerned about patient safety at the trust.
‘The evidence presented to the HSC makes it clear that there has never been any finding that Gary Walker had raised genuine concerns that would constitute his designation as a whistleblower.
‘Now that the compromise agreement between Mr Walker and his employers, which referred to his employment status and his dismissal, has been set aside the SHA is in a position to put its view of events into the public domain which it has not been able to do before.’
Want to slim AND repair creaky knees? Have a milkshake (?)
Nothing works for long
Liquid diets have had an image problem — the idea of losing weight by mixing sachets of powder into meal replacement milkshakes or soups makes dietitians very unhappy. They worry that losing weight too quickly could be bad for you, and such plans don’t teach you how to eat healthily afterwards.
Indeed, many people do quickly put all the weight back on.
And then there are the pyramid-selling techniques behind some of these liquid diets, which have caused doctors to be especially cautious about making use of them.
But that poor image could be due a rethink following compelling new research suggesting low-calorie liquid diets can tackle obesity and reverse type 2 diabetes.
And it was backed by an editorial in the British Journal of General Practice last month.
For three months, all your food comes in the form of a nutritionally balanced drink. Either fruit or savoury-flavoured, it supplies 800 calories a day.
‘It’s a bit of a shock for the patients to start with,’ says Mahri Swanson, the practice nurse at the surgery. She adds: ‘These are people who could have been eating 3,000-4,000 calories a day.
‘For the first few days they are really hungry. But, surprisingly, most quite quickly say it’s OK, and within a week aren’t craving food.’
According to the February issue of the British Journal of General Practice, about 30 per cent of the 90 people taking part lost 15 to 20 kilos and kept it off for a year with a lot of support.
Several Scottish health authorities are planning to make liquid diets available through GPs as a result.
Professor Mike Lean, chair of human nutrition at Glasgow University and a lead researcher on the trial, is having discussions with Diabetes UK about funding for a larger controlled trial of 200 people to properly test the diabetic benefit.
‘The rising number of people who are obese or diabetic is going to cost billions,’ says Professor Tony Leeds, an obesity specialist who runs a clinic at the Central Middlesex Hospital in London and has been treating patients with liquid diets for years.
‘If these results are repeated, the savings could be huge.’
Indeed, in Denmark a liquid diet is about to become the first-line treatment for people with osteoarthritis of the knee.
This follows a study which found that when 175 osteoarthritis patients were put on a liquid diet they not only lost a lot of weight, nearly all of which was fat, but more than 60 per cent also showed significant improvement in pain and disability.
‘Until a few years ago all that was on offer for these patients was painkillers and advice to lose weight that rarely worked for long,’ says Professor Henning Bliddal, a rheumatologist at Frederiksberg Hospital who led the study.
‘Osteoarthritis normally makes bones weaker by reducing bone mineral density.
‘But the bones of patients on the liquid diet improve, possibly because it contains the recommended daily allowance for all amino acids, fatty acids vitamins and minerals.
‘This means they get extra vitamin D, which is vital for building bones.
‘About ten per cent of people over 55 have bad knees and are overweight, and the diet has changed the way we treat them,’ adds Professor Bliddal, who is running a trial to test the possibility that it can improve the structure of damaged cartilage in the knee.
The Danish study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011, concluded that the liquid diet was ‘effective and safe’.
In fact, despite concerns that a rapid drop in calories might be bad for you, emerging evidence suggests it may lower cholesterol levels.
Some researchers have even suggested it might even reduce asthma symptoms.
But whatever calorie restriction regimen — diet or liquid diet — it’s clear that a supportive and effective follow-up programme to make sure that the weight stays off is vital.
This has been a key part of the Scottish trial.
And it’s the special focus of the Rotherham Institute for Obesity, which over the past three years has helped the local population of 250,000 lose 17 tons between them — and halved the weight loss surgery rate in the first year (30 fewer patients have had the surgery, saving around £300,000).
The institute takes 2,000 referrals a year.
‘Our team of dietitians, fitness experts, psychologists and cooks make sure they have a good chance that any weight they have lost stays off,’ says Dr Matthew Capehorn, who heads the scheme and is also clinical director of the National Obesity Forum.
Under official guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), low-calorie diets are available on the NHS for people ‘who are obese and have reached a plateau in weight loss’.
The hope is that the new evidence will give GPs more confidence to use them.
Taking Vitamin D in pregnancy ‘does not help babies develop stronger bones’
Levels of vitamin D in pregnant women may not affect the baby’s bone health – contrary to official advice, say scientists.
They found no link between a mother’s levels of the vitamin while carrying the child, and the latter’s bone health at the age of 10.
Current NHS guidance says all pregnant and breastfeeding women should take a 10 microgram vitamin D supplement every day, because it is believed to help build stronger bones in their offspring.
Professor Debbie Lawlor, who led the Children of the 90s study at Bristol University, said there was ‘no strong evidence’ that pregnant women should be taking vitamin D supplements.’
But other experts said some groups of women such as those getting little sunlight and the obese were more at risk of low vitamin D stores and they should still be encouraged to do so.
The study published in The Lancet medical journal assessed vitamin D levels in 3960 women throughout their pregnancy.
The bone mineral content (BMC), a measure of bone health, of their child was then assessed at an average age of 9.9 years.
Researchers measured vitamin D levels at all stages of pregnancy.
Levels were higher in summer months and lower among non-white mothers and those who smoked during pregnancy, but overall there was no significant link between a mother’s vitamin D levels and her child’s BMC.
Dr Tony Falconer, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said ‘We know that Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium in the body, which helps to keep bones and teeth healthy, and low levels have been associated with problems relating to the baby’s bone formation and a higher risk of diseases such as rickets and osteoporosis in later life.
‘Some women are more at risk of having low vitamin D levels, these women include those of south Asian, black African, black Caribbean, or Middle Eastern origin, women who have limited exposure to sunlight, obese women (pre-pregnancy BMI >30) and those who eat a diet low in vitamin D. It is particularly important these women get their required dose.
‘As healthcare professionals, it is our role to reinforce the importance for proper diet and nutrition during pregnancy and throughout a woman’s lifespan.
‘It is important that at-risk women are informed, at their first antenatal booking, of the importance of adequate vitamin D during pregnancy and after, to maintain their own and their baby’s health.
‘Further research is needed to look at vitamin supplementation including potential benefits, harms and optimal dosing.’
British Local Councils Hire ‘Eco’ Snoopers
Councils across the UK are spending millions and employing hundreds of ‘low carbon’ officers to fight global warming – which now appears not to pose an imminent threat – at the same time as making sweeping cuts to children’s services, the arts and the elderly.
The councils have increased their spending on salaries of climate change staff by 34 per cent since the 2008 crash, almost three times the rate of inflation, while grants from central government were slashed by 12 per cent.
Our investigation comes from data sought under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act. It shows:
* Green salaries totalled £8.7 million in 2011 to 2012 at 65 councils, representing 17 million people – about one third of all councils. This sum does NOT include the cost of publicity materials urging people to cut their carbon footprints.
* Spending on green salaries rose by 137 per cent in Stoke. In 2010, the council spent £137,000 on solar panels for its civic centre roof. It is now set to close it and build a new centre for more than £50m.
* The highest-spending councils face deep cuts to core provisions.
* In Glasgow, where the green jobs spend of £390,000 is up 43 per cent on 2008 to 2009, the council is to cut £54 million from schools, social services and help for the disabled. In Birmingham, green salaries of £338,000 have risen 62 per cent, but £102 million is to be axed and 1,000 jobs lost.
* In Bradford (where green salaries are up from zero to £289,000), the council has issued a 25-page booklet claiming locals face an influx of foreign migrants displaced by sea level rises and drought.
Not all councils are burning money on climate change. In 17 areas, green salaries have been reduced. The biggest cut was in Colchester which will now do without any climate change officers, having spent £23,000 in 2008 to 2009.
The hiring binge was sparked by the 2008 Climate Change Act. It demands a cut in CO2 emissions in the UK by 80 per cent by 2050. It was followed by the Low Carbon Industrial Strategy, putting the onus on councils.
Press regulation proposal leaves many newspapers furious at ‘historic’ deal
East Germany lives on in Britain. All-party agreement to create powerful regulator now in place. A sad day for British liberties
A shellshocked newspaper industry was struggling to come to terms with a sudden all-party agreement on the future of press regulation, hurriedly adopted by parliament, to create a powerful new regulator designed to prevent a repeat of the phone-hacking scandal.
The independent regulator will have powers to impose fines and demand prominent corrections, and courts will be allowed to impose exemplary damages on newspapers that fail to join the body.
All three party leaders hailed the “historic” deal, sealed in extraordinary late night talks on Sunday in the office of the Labour leader Ed Miliband after months of wrangling, but many of the country’s leading newspaper publishers were ominously wary.
Some Conservative MPs accused David Cameron of running up the white flag and the former Tory cabinet minister Peter Lilley urged newspapers to boycott the new system – an option which is being actively considered by some media groups.
The newspapers are furious that Cameron’s policy adviser, the Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin, sealed the deal at 2.30am on Monday morning in Miliband’s office, accompanied by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and four members of the victims’ group Hacked Off. No 10 was forced to say that Cameron had not been asleep in the early hours and that the critical aspects of the deal had been settled the previous afternoon in face-to-face talks between Clegg and Cameron.
Under the deal, the newspaper industry has lost its power to veto appointments to the body that will replace the Press Complaints Commission, the previous regulator discredited by its failure to investigate phone hacking by leading newspapers.
Cameron urged the newspaper industry quickly to sign up to the agreement by setting up the new regulator. “It is a neat solution. It is not a panacea,” he said.
Quoting the Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman, the prime minister said: “It is closing time in the last chance saloon. This replaces a failed regulatory system with one that will work because it has some real independence at its heart and is going to be properly overseen without allowing parliament to endlessly interfere.”
But he stressed the new royal charter only sets up the body to recognise the regulator, and it remains a voluntary choice for the industry to decide whether to set up the system of independent regulation. If newspapers refuse to co-operate with the regulator, or set up a body that is not recognised by the new recognition panel, they will be more liable to exemplary damages if they recklessly publish inaccurate stories.
In a statement, Associated Newspapers, News International, the Telegraph Media Group and the Express publishers, Northern & Shell, said they would be taking “high level legal advice” before deciding if they could join the new watchdog. There were “several deeply contentious issues which have not yet been resolved with the industry” in the deal.
They added: “No representative of the newspaper and magazine industry had any involvement in, or indeed any knowledge of, the cross-party talks on press regulation that took place on Sunday night.
“We have only late this afternoon seen the royal charter that the political parties have agreed between themselves and, more pertinently, the recognition criteria, early drafts of which contained several deeply contentious issues which have not yet been resolved with the industry.”
Cameron switched from a stance of defiance last Thursday to apparent capitulation on a range of points over the weekend. Major parts of the newspaper industry have issues with the statute that would be laid down to guarantee no change could be made to the royal charter, along with worries over the proposals to give the regulator the power to force apologies. They are also strongly opposed to the proposal that, for the first time, people from outside the industry would be involved in drawing up the newspaper code of practice, a code that has been widely praised and has been adapted by regulators in other countries.
“This is a political deal between the three parties and Hacked Off. It is not a deal with the newspapers,” said one senior executive in one newspaper group.
Associated Newspapers, News International and the Telegraph Media Group had been exploring the possibility of boycotting the government-sanctioned regulator and setting up their own body if they believed it could threaten freedom of the press. This is still “very much a live discussion”, said one source.
“Nobody is threatening it, or saying we will do it, but we won’t be making a decision before we have had high level legal advice,” said the insider who claimed that the existence of a “no change” statute to guarantee the royal charter could not be amended by the privy council still opened the door to political interference. A second senior executive said the industry had already been advised that the proposal that the regulatory body could force newspapers into making apologies it did not agree would be illegal as it would be contrary to article 10 of the European convention of human rights which protects freedom of speech. But the editor of the Independent, Chris Blackhurst, said the proposed regulator “isn’t perfect but neither is it terrible” and said he did not think it would threaten journalism at his paper.
Clegg’s office rounded on Cameron, saying: “If it looks chaotic that Letwin was meeting members of Hacked Off in Ed Miliband’s office at 2am to discuss press regulation, that is because it was chaotic. It is chaotic because the prime minister walked out of the talks unilterally on Thursday rather than sitting down and having sensible discussions. We have ended up where we hoped, and expected.”
Harriet Harman, the shadow culture secretary, hailed the concessions extracted from Cameron since last week. She said “What changed after Thursday is we got free arbitration, with a small narrowing of the route into arbitration, to reassure the regional press, we got the direction of apologies and corrections, we got abandonment of the veto on the appointment to the board of the regulator, and there is a role for working journalists in the writing of the code. We also got them to accept the amendment tabled by Lord Wilf Stevenson entrenching the Royal Charter for the press. We have been storming along.”
No 10 said bloggers, tweeters, news aggregators and social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, as well as special interest titles, will be excluded, but there is concern that the definitions will be hard to make workable.
Rachel Johnson explores ladyhood
The sister of the inimitable Boris was not cut out to be a lady
What on earth does being a lady mean in 2013, when anyone can and does call themselves one, including Lady Gaga, and David Walliams in full drag, hooting ‘I’m a laydee’ as if the word itself contains some hilarious, hidden joke? Could even I be a lady? I had to find out.
The first step, obviously, was to obey the command snapped to uppity misses by dowagers down the centuries – I had to ‘learn some manners, young lady’.
So I dug a frock out of my wardrobe, and drove to a charm school in Cheshire to meet William Hanson and Diana Mather, who run The English Manner. It was clear from the start that I had a long way to go. Not even my greeting cut the mustard. ‘One of the first things we’re going to teach you is the proper handshake,’ Mather said, withdrawing her limp hand from my lusty grasp. ‘You go on pumping too long.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ I said, startled (I’ve heard many complaints in my time, but never that one.) ‘Americans go on pumping for seven seconds,’ Mather continued, ‘but here, three is ample.’
I also learnt that there is a right way and a wrong way to open and close a door, and to enter and leave a room. This is far more complicated than it sounds. Essentially, a lady never shows her posterior to the person she is taking her leave of, so she has to twirl herself gaily out of the room like the Sugar Plum Fairy.
After failing to do the catwalk with a Jeffrey Archer paperback balanced on my head (it kept slipping off, but then I have a pointy skull) it was time for ‘fine dining’. I sat with the students at a table covered with cutlery and glassware of different shapes and sizes, and learnt the important difference between a fish knife and a fruit knife. ‘Why on earth do you want to know all this?’ I asked girls studying at the school, and they all came up with good reasons.
‘It’s about feeling confident in every situation,’ said one. ‘It’s a question of acquiring some basic skills and manners and confidence, and learning easy tips and tricks to make life easier, and gaining respect from your partner, friends and business colleagues,’ said another.
Fair enough. But being a lady, as I discovered next, is not just about knowing how to behave in every situation; in the past it was more about female suppression, and the very word ‘lady’ has scythed through women’s lives like a double-edged sword.
Young women may be keen to become independent, ‘modern ladies’ now, and learn how to arrange flowers and leave an interview, but pre-20th Century, the title was a verbal burka, designed to keep women in their place, just as the whalebone stays and strangulating corsets of a lady’s conventional dress were literally designed to hobble and constrict her movements.
As I continued on my quest I was shocked to discover how much had been withheld from my sex, on the grounds that it was ‘unladylike’.
You can see why, as the investigation progressed, I began to feel as if ‘lady’ was a four-letter word: for, as I traced its past, what we were describing was the history of control and restraint of the upper-crust female.
I discovered that it wasn’t until Jane Austen’s day that the process of subverting these cramping conventions began.
A literary historian I met at Chawton House, where the author wrote, dated the moment to Pride And Prejudice – to when Elizabeth Bennet snags Mr Darcy from under the long twitching nose of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, an aristocrat of snobbish hauteur, who was outraged that a lower-born woman without family, connections or fortune could have such upstart pretensions.
Miss Austen rocked the boat by suggesting that a lady is not necessarily to the manner born, but could be made, simply by virtue of her goodness, beauty and character.
In a way, that was good, because it suggested one was not a lady any more by birth or breeding, but by behaviour and attitude. In another way, it was a disaster – because it meant all women had a choice – and the evergreen Pygmalion theme was born.
However, I also learnt that ladette-to-lady transformations were not that usual.
I interviewed former debs and real ladies, and was told that, up until the Fifties, a lady was, indeed, to the manner born, not made.
Most posh girls usually ended up not at university, but being groomed for marriage. So they would go somewhere like the Lucie Clayton Charm Academy, the alma mater of Sandra Howard, Joanna Lumley, and Jean Shrimpton, where gels were taught key life skills – such as how to walk with books on their heads and get out of sports cars with their knees clamped together.
And then, thank God, the Sixties happened. I interviewed writer Fiona MacCarthy, who was in the last batch of debs to be presented at court and loathed the whole thing.
While Twiggy was prancing up and down the Kings Road in a miniskirt, it was all over for tiaras and tea parties with Mummy in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses at Buckingham Palace. ‘It all changed overnight, I suppose around 1960,’ Fiona said.
‘You didn’t want to be seen dead looking like your mother any more and you didn’t want to be ladylike.’
It was at that point that the lady did a vanishing act. From the beginning of the Sixties, girls were no longer presented at court (Princess Margaret had complained ‘every tart in London’ was penetrating the Palace) and the young lady industry looked dusty and old-fashioned.
The lady became associated with male oppression and inequality. Her prim ways and prinked appearance had no place in a world where women could behave like men. Women wanted liberation, and careers.
This crested with the arrival on the scene of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, and the whole new notion that a woman was the best man for the job.
In the Eighties and Nineties, the term ‘lady’ had lost traction. What mattered was powering ahead – in shoulder pads – and the languid Edwardian world of flower arranging and bridge and coffee mornings, and tea parties and ladies’ lunches seemed dull, constricting and old-fashioned. Coming-out balls and the Season slipped from view.
But, as I discovered, the industry never went away completely, and now the lady’s back and she means business. A global recession, a Royal Wedding and an increased sense that women need to trade on their social and sexual capital to maximise their value has triggered a renewed interest in that blue-chip brand, the English Lady, as Jennie Hallam-Peel, organiser of the London Season, told us.
The return of the lady is being spearheaded by the Duchess of Cambridge, who has become a poster princess for young women who hope that if they look the part, one day their prince will come, too.
We found the Season is alive and well, and met international debutantes who attended balls here and in Paris, New York and Dubai. So why has the lady returned?
Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, reckons the lady is having a resurgence as society becomes more conservative in a recession, and women, above all, have to retrench.
‘Recessions are generally bad for women because the squeeze in earnings puts a premium on the cost of childcare, forcing women back home,’ Dr Foreman argues. ‘On a macro-level, economic dislocation generally produces the equivalent of an adrenaline rush: fight or flight. If the country doesn’t erupt in violence it goes the other away and turns inward.’
Mmm. And is this a good thing? I asked Bidisha, the feminist writer. To my surprise, she said yes. ‘The return of the lady is about bringing a kind of formality and elegance back into a culture which is really quite vulgar.’
By the end of my journey, I was convinced that even I could become a lady, with effort and application. It’s about putting others first and attitude, and being at ease in every situation, rather than anything to do with white gloves or fruit knives.
There’s definitely something charming and old-fashioned about the lady and her ways, in the frenzy of helter-skelter modern life. But I’m still not sure I want to be one.
And I couldn’t resist a silent cheer when I asked the beautiful, elegant ex-model and author Sandra Howard, now Lady Howard, if she thought she was a lady. ‘Certainly not!’ she said, looking shocked
Motherhood, the career that dare not speak its name
Claire Perry, Tory MP for Devizes and childhood guru to David Cameron, says she’s had three careers: she’s been a banker, a mother and a politician. It is brave of her – and not because bankers and politicians are the most despised professions around. Ms Perry is brave because she makes claims for motherhood that has too many feminists and members of the Coalition sneering: it is a full-time, unpaid job.
Perry is promoting “Mothers at Home Matter”, a group that wants the Coalition to recognise the contribution of stay-at-home mothers. Their message is urgent: when the state has to step in to care for children, the tax payers end up paying millions in creches and programmes like SureStart – now recognised as a hugely expensive Labour failure.
Worse, psychologists are now worrying that being raised outside their home environment by a succession of “professionals” can scar children for life. In Sweden, where this is a matter of routine, school records show the highest truancy and “worst classroom disorder” in western Europe. The star witness for MAHM was Jonas Himmlestrand, expert in Swedish family policy, who reported that his homeland, where 90 per cent of children are in subsidised child care, has seen a serious decline in adolescent mental health, between 1986 -2002 declined faster than in 10 comparable European countries.
So, forget the Swedish model. MAHM believes the key to happy families is to change the tax system that right now forces women to work. The UK is almost alone amongst developed countries in not recognising family and spousal responsibilities in its tax system. The burden on the single earner has more than doubled in the last 50 years. Many single earner families are in the poorest third of the population. MAHM want families taxed on the basis of household rather than individual income. They call “for a debate about income-splitting, transferable tax allowances and protecting child benefit for parents with dependent children.”
Politicians should pay attention: the number of mothers who stay at home is down to a third — but, as I found out when I researched “What Women Really Want” for the Centre for Policy Studies, the majority of mothers would like to stay at home to look after their children. That’s quite a constituency, Messrs Cameron et al. Ignore it (and your pledge to introduce family tax credits) at your peril.