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Jill Kirby: The march of the “golden skirts”. A token woman won’t save the BBC


As Chris “13 jobs” Patten bows out after an inglorious tenure as Chairman of the BBC Trust, the Prime Minister has let it be known that he wants a woman to take up this lucrative part-time role, in order to “clean up” the BBC. It’s good to know that David Cameron rates the fairer sex for our ability to clean up after lazy and incompetent men.

According to the Sunday Times, the front runner for the job is Baroness Hogg, chairman of the Financial Reporting Council, whose list of other directorships is slightly less extensive than Lord Patten’s, presumably leaving her enough time to don the Marigolds and get to work on the mess he leaves behind.

Other contenders for this demanding task are said to include Dame Marjorie Scardino, who tripled profits at the Pearson Group to a record breaking £942m (and no doubt also cleans behind her fridge), and former financial journalist Patience Wheatcroft, elevated to the Lords by David Cameron after a very brief tenure as editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal’s European edition.

Twitterati may recall that Scary Marjory was appointed to the board of Twitter at the end of last year in direct response to accusations of “lack of diversity.” So she is clearly no stranger to tokensim. Patience hasn’t done too badly either, with a small clutch of non-exec directorships across finance and public bodies.

In Norway, where female quotas on boards became mandatory in 2003, they have a name for the handful of women in public life who have scooped up an armful of directorships: the gullskjortene or “golden skirts”.

Still, we shouldn’t knock Scardino and Wheatcroft’s successes. After all, when it comes to collecting boardroom jobs, they are slackers compared to Patten. And if Baroness Hogg gets the BBC Trust, she will no doubt have more time to devote to the role than her predecessor.

But will she be the breath of fresh air David Cameron seems to be seeking? Why is it taken as a given that women are harder-working, less greedy with expenses, less reliant on nepotism and generally less corrupted by power than their male counterparts?

Like the golden skirts, aren’t the women in power in Britain today just a different kind of elite, many of them promoted for reasons of tokenism?

Maybe the Prime Minister thought that when he appointed a female culture secretary she wouldn’t try to bully the press, or maximise her expense claims, or treat the House of Commons to a show of arrogance – after all, that’s the kind of thing men do, isn’t it?

Perhaps he thinks that because Sarah Hogg is female the public will forget that she’s a political insider whose father was a Cabinet minister and whose husband is the Tory MP forced to stand down after claiming for the cost of cleaning his moat. (Was his wife too busy to clean it for him?)

Look, she may be very well qualified for the job, but don’t let’s pretend that Baroness Hogg is in any meaningful sense a “breath of fresh air.”

For my money (and after all it is my money, and your money, paying the chairman of the BBC Trust and all the co-directors, staff, overheads, allowances and expenses) I’d forget about recruiting a new Chairman and close down the Trust forthwith. As the events of the last five years have shown, it is a toothless, self-aggrandising body that should have been first into the bonfire of the quangos when the coalition took office, with its powers handed over to OFCOM. Now there’s a job for a woman. Any volunteers?

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Jill Kirby
Jill Kirby
Jill Kirby is a freelance writer, commentator and policy analyst specialising in social policy

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