Monday, 3 November 2014


I’ve been worrying about this all week. In the wake of the resignation of Fiona Woolf as Chair of the Abuse Enquiry the question as to who knows whom and what this “establishment” actually is has been preying on my mind. Fiona, when asked if her successor would be difficult to find, suggested yes,  it might need to be a hermit.

So I thought about my own track record. Grammar School - good; Oxford - bad; Balliol - really terrible; live/have always lived in London and the south east - oh dear; friends include lawyers, civil servants, politicians, high rolling business people - all very, very bad.

But I regard myself as a bit of a rebel which is, of course, not just bad but dangerous. It defines me as a kind of Che Guevara figure - establishment gone a bit mouldy.

The issue is a sensitive one. Fiona Woolf antagonised the survivors of abuse by describing them as the “victim community”. These are not just victims, they are very angry and at last they see an opportunity to achieve revelation, reprisal and reform.

The agenda is changing from an enquiry into an issue into a broad based scrutiny of British Society’s attitude and behaviour towards children in the mid-20th century.  This will dig deep into public school education, the church, charities and any institutions which “helped” young people. It will tangle with issues of privilege, loyalty to colleagues and concepts like giving people a second chance.

The idea of whistleblowing, abhorrent to most of us when I was young, is now required behaviour. The idea of making a fuss however much you suffered used to be regarded as unmanly or unseemly. Lips were upper and stiff.

Today we live in a better, kinder and cleaner world. Young people today are bemused by what seems a conspiratorial and violent past. Yet as a country we remain rather grumpy. Research at Warwick University shows the Danes and Dutch are the happiest whilst the Brits and Americans are genetically under-provided with serotonin, the happiness chemical. Only the French are gloomier than we are.
C’est la vie.

But how do you choose the right  people for important jobs? At Google executives face a barrage of interviews - up to 25 of them with, accordingly, plenty of opportunity to uncover flaws.

Yet at many places the process of selection seems to be more light touch.

Interviewing to uncover a candidate’s defects is a pretty inexact science, let’s face it, but I loved the story of the executive who at the end of an interview which had gone really well was asked “And finally Mr Hall can you tell me what your biggest weakness is?”

There was a silence while the candidate thought and then said.
I suppose it’s my honesty”.

The Chairman of the panel smiled and said.

I don’t think that’s a weakness Mr Hall.

To which the candidate replied.

I don’t care what the hell you think.

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