Political sketch: Best of British

The Queen's Speech production: men in tights and curtains, and a non-hat on a stick.

When Ronnie O' Sullivan announced a six month sabbatical after winning the World Snooker final last weekend, no one expected him to turn up at the State Opening of Parliament.

But there he was wearing a set of curtains in his part-time job as Lord Great Chamberlain of the United Kingdom with only his snooker cue - painted white for disguise - to give the game away.

Lese-majeste comes in many forms but few can be as cruel as forcing the Queen to dress up for a night out in the middle of the morning to announce where the latest rabble who claim to be her Government plan to spend the nation's non-existent money in the next 12 months.

She got time off for good behaviour last year but with the country back up to its ears in odure she found herself booked again to provide entertainment for the tourists who had mis-read their tickets and arrived early for the Olympics.

And not just the tourists since the unemployed were also provided with diversion from signing on as Ronnie, masquerading as the Marquis Of Cholmondeley (pronounced Cholmondeley), accompanied various Sticks, Rods and Yeomen through a rehearsal of the Mikado.

With the House of Lords booked for the occasion and Europe's supply of gold thread bought up months ago the scene was set for the bit of business we do better than anyone else: the past.

Even before the Queen turned up Britain's answer to the Department of Homeland Security - the Beefeaters, distinguished by wearing tea cosies on their heads - disappeared into the cellars clutching lanterns and pikestaffs to check on terrorist activity.

With the Palace of Westminster apparently swept clean, more men in tights turned up in a coach at the backdoor carrying a sword, a crown and a hat on a stick.

The BBC's Huw Edwards, that other national treasure, explained that the crown - carrying enough jewels to clear the national debt on its own - was the one Her Majesty wears for special occasions; obviously, as opposed to the one she wears for putting out the bins which she turned up in.

The hat on stick is not a hat, he also explained, but the Cap of Maintenance which in the best British tradition has no relevance whatsoever apart from being carried around by someone who looked like the Jack of Hearts.

With everything now in place the Queen herself arrived accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh who appeared to have hired the uniform of a Lord High Admiral - and several other people's medals - for the event.

But even with all these entries the best-in-show prize has to go to a surprise late entrant, the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain himself, Nottingham's own Ken Clarke. For once without his hush-puppies and instead resplendent in buckles, wig and bows, Ken looked every inch the great panjandrum as he clutched an ornate cushion cover containing the Queen's Speech.

Just to prove the event was not just a comedy, over in the Commons Speaker Bercow, wearing his own coat of many colours, was hanging about with a few friendly but mostly enemy MPs waiting for the summons to hear the Speech which they had all read in the morning papers. The summons is delivered by Black Rod so called because he carries it. (Do try to keep up!)

His job is to go to the Commons, bash on the door, pop inside and demand the oiks make their way to the Lords where their elders and betters have already taken all the seats, and hear what they will be up to for the next 12 months.

With Speaker Bercow gladly on his own out in front, MPs clearly excited by a school trip followed their leaders Ed and Dave both demonstrating that being well brought up enough means you can make polite conversation.

Finally the Queen got down to what she had been booked for. Ten minutes later it was done and she and a relieved Prince Philip were off again back to the real Palace for the last half hour of This Morning.

Meanwhile back in the Commons, chief oik Denis Skinner, who once again had refused the Royal invitation, must have been happily musing over the cries of "shame" from the Tory benches which accompanied his own part in the historical event: the mauling of the monarch's representative.

As Black Rod nervously made his way back to safety Denis summed up the proceedings: "Jubilee year, double-dip recession, what a start ".

 

Photograph: Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

Getty
Show Hide image

Gender pay gap: women do not choose to be paid less than men

Care work isn’t going anywhere – and it’s about time we recognised which half of the population is doing it, unpaid.

Is it just me, or does Mansplain The Pay Gap Day get earlier every year? It’s not even November and already men up and down the land are hard at work responding to the latest so-called “research” suggesting that women suffer discrimination when it comes to promotions and pay. 

Poor men. It must be a thankless task, having to do this year in, year out, while women continue to feel hard done to on the basis of entirely misleading statistics. Yes, women may earn an average of 18 per cent less than men. Yes, male managers may be 40 per cent more likely than female managers to be promoted. Yes, the difference in earnings between men and women may balloon once children are born. But let’s be honest, this isn’t about discrimination. It’s all about choice.

Listen, for instance, to Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs:

“When people make the decision to go part time, either for familial reasons or to gain a better work-life balance, this can impact further career opportunities but it is a choice made by the individual - men and women alike.”

Women can hardly expect to be earning the same as men if we’re not putting in the same number of hours, can we? As Tory MP Philip Davies has said: “feminist zealots really do want women to have their cake and eat it.” Since we’re far more likely than men to work part-time and/or to take time off to care for others, it makes perfect sense for us to be earning less.

After all, it’s not as though the decisions we make are influenced by anything other than innate individual preferences, arising from deep within our pink, fluffy brains. And it’s not as though the tasks we are doing outside of the traditional workplace have any broader social, cultural or economic value whatsoever.

To listen to the likes of Littlewood and Davies, you’d think that the feminist argument regarding equal pay started and ended with “horrible men are paying us less to do the same jobs because they’re mean”. I mean, I think it’s clear that many of them are doing exactly that, but as others have been saying, repeatedly, it’s a bit more complicated than that. The thing our poor mansplainers tend to miss is that there is a problem in how we are defining work that is economically valuable in the first place. Women will never gain equal pay as long as value is ascribed in accordance with a view of the world which sees men as the default humans.

As Katrine Marçal puts it in Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, “in the same way that there is a ‘second sex’, there is a ‘second economy’”:

“The work that is traditionally carried out by men is what counts. It defines the economic world view. Women’s work is ‘the other’. Everything that he doesn’t do but that he is dependent on so he can do what he does.”

By which Marçal means cooking, cleaning, nursing, caring – the domestic tasks which used to be referred to as “housework” before we decided that was sexist. Terms such as “housework” belong to an era when women were forced to do all the domestic tasks by evil men who told them it was their principal role in life. It’s not like that now, at least not as far as our mansplaining economists are concerned. Nowadays when women do all the domestic tasks it’s because they’ve chosen “to gain a better work-life balance.” Honestly. We can’t get enough of those unpaid hours spent in immaculate homes with smiling, clean, obedient children and healthy, Werther’s Original-style elderly relatives. It’s not as though we’re up to our elbows in the same old shit as before. Thanks to the great gods Empowerment and Choice, those turds have been polished out of existence. And it’s not as though reproductive coercion, male violence, class, geographic location, social conditioning or cultural pressures continue to influence our empowered choices in any way whatsoever. We make all our decisions in a vacuum (a Dyson, naturally).

Sadly, I think this is what many men genuinely believe. It’s what they must tell themselves, after all, in order to avoid feeling horribly ashamed at the way in which half the world’s population continues to exploit the bodies and labour of the other half. The gender pay gap is seen as something which has evolved naturally because – as Marçal writes – “the job market is still largely defined by the idea that humans are bodiless, sexless, profit-seeking individuals without family or context”. If women “choose” to behave as though this is not the case, well, that’s their look-out (that the economy as a whole benefits from such behaviour since it means workers/consumers continue to be born and kept alive is just a happy coincidence).

I am not for one moment suggesting that women should therefore be “liberated” to make the same choices as men do. Rather, men should face the same restrictions and be expected to meet the same obligations as women. Care work isn’t going anywhere. There will always be people who are too young, too old or too sick to take care of themselves. Rebranding  this work the “life” side of the great “work-life balance” isn’t fooling anyone.

So I’m sorry, men. Your valiant efforts in mansplaining the gender pay gap have been noted. What a tough job it must be. But next time, why not change a few nappies, wash a few dishes and mop up a few pools of vomit instead? Go on, live a little. You’ve earned it. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.