Magazine article The Spectator

If You like Human Beings, Steer Clear of Human Resources

Magazine article The Spectator

If You like Human Beings, Steer Clear of Human Resources

Article excerpt

If you've ever been involved in managing people, on however small a scale and to whatever bathyspheric depths of ineptitude, it's a fair bet that you've been sent on a Fair Selection Course. They sent me on one, the BBC's personnel people - that forever growing troop of monkeys we've all been bullied into calling 'Human Resources', as if 'personnel' was insufficiently grandiose for them. Anyway, I went on this benighted course and, as licence-payers' money was spent enabling me to do so, I hope some of it rubbed off.

Certainly, its mixture of the bloody obvious, condescension and crushing boredom left a sort of impression on me - in fact, the impression of a ballpoint pen driven repeatedly into my left wrist as a means of warding off terminal catatonia. Believe me, by the end of the two-day session, the pen was rusty with dried blood.

After the Fair Selection business came the targets, with their multifarious performance indicators. The requirement at that time - 1998 - was to get more black people working in the BBC. Very stupid black people, one began to feel, would do just as well as very clever black people. So long as they were black. Or disabled.

Black and disabled, meanwhile, in Human Resources terms, was equivalent to a double-word score in Scrabble. There were stashes of money from which one could fund the appointment of a black person who, say, couldn't walk, or tie his or her own shoelaces, as a result of some unfortunate mental or physical impairment.

We had to tell our bosses how many black people we were employing. At the Today programme, we were miles over the requisite percentage, although it was never very clear what, exactly, was meant by 'black'. It seemed to mean 'not white' - that old and somewhat discredited definition first coined in the 1960s by the hard Left. Black could mean a public-school-educated, upper-middle-class Indian journalist, for example. My worry was that it almost always did: as far as Fair Selection went, that was just as good as employing, say, a state-educated, working-class African-Caribbean journalist. Their experiences of discrimination - racial, and consequently social and economic were deemed to be equivalent. Which of course they arc most certainly not.

Occasionally, we would artificially boost our totals of 'ethnic minorities'. We didn't need to because, as I say, we were way above our 'quota' - but we were occasionally possessed by the spirit of devilment. One year we included Sue MacGregor as an ethnic minority, for example. Sue was brought up in South Africa. She may not strike you as entirely representative of our ethnic minorities but, as luck would have it, she counted as such on the bone-headed form.

There was a brilliant bloke who had Portuguese-Goan ancestry, too. So he went down on the form, despite being several shades lighter than most of the Caucasians working on the programme. Was he black? Nobody really knew. He was generous enough to allow himself to be described as black for administrative purposes.

In fact, this nonsensical classification of people inspired one of the funniest and sharpest pieces of journalism I can remember from my time on Today. A reporter, Mike Thompson, rang up the BNP membership secretary and clandestinely recorded the man's response to a succession of questions about which races were allowed to join the BNP. The imbecile from the BNP said yes to some, no to others (including our Goan reporter) and hummed and hawed over the rest. …

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