Firing the fired

"You're Fired": apprentice regurgitated

For a show with a fairly simple premise – people trying to sell things – The Apprentice includes a fair whack of self scrutiny. We’ve got Alan Sugar weighing the contestants up, we’ve got contestants weighing themselves up (“I’m the reflection of perfection”), we’ve got a portentous voiceover throughout the show, and we’ve got a camera which forces us to hate everyone in it.

But it’s not enough to have an episode cut into bite-sized pieces, or even auto-digested: now it’s regurgitated in front of a live audience as a comedian sorts through the vomit with a novelty toothpick. This last bit is called “The Apprentice: You're Fired”.

The BBC2 spin-off is a "friendly" retrospective discussion in which the hapless contestant gets ripped to shreds all over again, only this time he has to pretend he's enjoying himself.  It looks like an odd experience for him, similar to a parent-teacher evening or perhaps a visit to a consortium of therapists. He’s so utterly the most powerless person there, and everyone talks over him, about him, trying to work out “what went wrong”. He's the butt of all the jokes – often much sharper than Alan Sugar’s put downs – but can’t fight his corner like he can in the boardroom, only grin sheepishly.

The worst thing, though, is that they’re not even all professional, legitimately superior business people. Half are amateurs or comedians (although they all wear suits). This leads to cutesy-mean, completely unanswerable remarks, like Jenny Éclair’s whimsical observation to fired contestant Michael:

"I don't know much about business, but I think sometimes, maybe, getting the taste right for a sauce is quite important."

Thanks Jenny, good to get a fresh opinion.

Last week the parent/teacher evening theme was carried further with a head boy-like contribution from Tom Pellereau, the previous Apprentice winner. In sharp contrast to the hapless Michael, he’s “doing really well”, a shining example to everyone: cue sage approval from the panel. Depressed, Michael gives up trying to get the conversation onto equal terms. The familiar therapy/school speech rhythms get to him, and he starts to apologise.

"I agree, I wasn't tough enough. I didn't fight my corner"

That's ok, Michael, that's ok. They gracefully accept his apology. They make more jokes. They look slightly uncomfortable. He gets a free toy at the end. It's actually very entertaining.

Dara: probably evil, Getty images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.