31 Mar 2009

I love the sound of breaking glass ceilings

Last night France’s finance minister talked to us on Channel 4 News. So did China’s ambassador to London. They were both in their individual ways impressive.

They were both women too. In 2009, well into the 21st century, it is still rare to interview women, even on a programme as enlightened as ours!

Both Christine Lagarde and Fu Ying were people who HAD to be interviewed in their own right. Ahead of any great international summit it is axiomatic that we would want to interview the French finance minister and the Chinese ambassador.

(And by the way, talk about a “silver rapier”. Amid the Mandelson-Lagarde love-fest last night, she delivered herself of a brilliant attack on British bankers and Britain’s change of heart.)

On other occasions, the menu is still dominated by men. There are, as we shall see this week, many top-flight women economists, and we shall be talking to some – not because they are women but because of the positions they hold.

But too often it is hard to find a women as often as we find men to talk to. Sometimes because their profile is lower, sometimes because they are unavailable.

It was whilst thinking about this that I thought about the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, and the expenses row swirling around her. Given that huge numbers of ministers, ex-ministers, MPs and peers have been doing precisely what she has been doing, is it her office that singles her out for extreme treatment, or her sex?

If Oxfam got a £100 donation for every porn movie a male politician had watched at the expense of the state (in a hotel on an “official” trip, or in time paid for by the state, or on a download that – like Ms Smith’s – was part of a TV subscription package, or on the web), I have no doubt the surge in its coffers would represent thousands of pounds.

Methinks I hear the sound of shattering glass. And it is not yet the ceiling.

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