“Glass ceiling”, until recently, was a term referring to the career limitations women experience through either general devaluation of females in the workplace or the limiting effects of childcare and other factors upon careers. But not so now.
There are many glass ceilings. We are talking about things that limit “social mobility”. We know that University education has traditionally created better prospects than for non-graduates. Years of universities and other establishments treating their intakes as fund raising entities, with a qualification range that does not necessarily bear any relevance to the skills needed in the open market, has to a certain extent tempered this. And so, we get highly skilled graduates doing quite menial tasks as much of our university system works on a “bums on seats” market space.
Glass ceilings exist in the political classes, with a predominance of Etonian-type politicians, many of whom had a life as a political researcher, not a plumber, teacher, nurse etc, before commencing their political career proper. Four members of the current cabinet are Etonians. Look across to the Opposition and a similar elitist picture is evident.
We used to have glass ceilings depending on the colour of one’s skin and it is a great pleasure to see the gradual paradigm shift that has occurred over the years where one’s ethnic origin features less and less in the limitation of one’s career. But we are not quite there yet and still need to be hugely vigilant in this respect. One only needs look at the recent upset caused by a national newspaper diary column’s references to the choice of experts on Newsnight.
The glass ceilings that now seem to affect all more are around the stakeholdership we have and the ability to participate in an increasingly technological society. In this respect, there are two key glass ceilings; one is geographical, the North-South divide for example, the other technological.
It is proposed that HS2 is “speeded up” (pardon the irony). We hear of the massive benefits of HS2 in terms of how it will stimulate the economy and connect the country. But only some parts of the country. Once again, the Whitehall Mandarins have no concept of a North of the country beyond Leeds, let alone a concept of the real issues of the North East. And let’s not be too North East centric whilst we’re criticizing the London centrists. The South West will not fare very well under the package either. In common with governments that have poor project management and managerial abilities and a focus on “flagship” initiatives, society lurches forward, driven by ego-based whims and the usual self-interests of those involved in major projects, rather than any true sense of equanimity of access or social justice for all with our transport infrastructure. The geographical divides will be even more acute if Scotland separates. Then we move to the cyber world of high speed broadband and the fitness for purpose of the three and four G network. For many areas of the country, this leaves so much to be desired. Rarely, if ever, for London.
The biggest reinforced pane impacting our society now is London itself. Every major project appears to service the needs of the capital and it is always the first priority for the allocation of resources. HS2 and such other folly projects inevitably go over budget and as a result remove the already dwindling chances of counterbalancing infrastructures in parts of the country not served by such initiatives. But hell, who cares when there are deals to be done, contracts to be won and your place in history to preserve.
Competent modern societies must reflect the equanimity of citizenship that exists across the entire geographical spread. For so long this has been a rural/urban debate, but it is now a regional debate that cannot be ignored. Quite how we make our politicians wake up to the fact that they are sitting in a Socratic cave of assumptions in which many of the public no longer form part of the plebiscite (that’s not to call them “plebs”, who after all would do that?).
The fact of the matter is that Labour have other agendas and the Tories were never particularly interested in the North East of England. That is why UKIP fared so well in the European and local elections. It is not that I am advocating the growth of UKIP in any way. It is the inevitability of the indifference of the major parties to set a proper agenda for the North East and other areas of the country that now form the “periphery of disinterest” to the tacit London centrism.
David Cliff is Managing Director of Gedanken and Vice Chairman of the Institute of Directors’ County Durham and Sunderland Committee.