Pull the drawbridge up on Government researchers

Gordon Brown wants us to re-examine our ideas of what constitutes a career. Iain Murray hopes he won’t end up conducting intrusive research for the Government.

Gordon Brown’s scheme to bribe the electorate into having more children is at best a medium-term solution to the skills shortages afflicting the nation. Of more importance to those of us who toil not for ourselves but for the good of our country, is: what can we do to help in the here and now?

The Chancellor has the answer. We must all, he adjures, upgrade our skills in the workplace. This column, never one to shirk its responsibilities, is resolved to do all it can. For a start, there will be a drastic reduction in time spent mooching from one coffee break to the next, to take place with immediate effect. From now on, beverage breaks will be much closer together, bringing them into line with those applying in Whitehall, although still falling lamentably short of the standard set by Brussels.

We have also instituted measures to upgrade the quality of metaphors, streamline punctuation, and downsize paragraphs.

So far, so good.

The scarcity and poor quality of jokes, however, is due partly to a national shortage and partly to a monopoly run by Anne Robinson, Esther Rantzen, Baroness Jay and Polly Toynbee, who have cornered the risibility market and are stockpiling guffaws.

In the circumstances we have little choice but to raid the reserves, which, on examination, seem to consist of mainly obsolete items about chickens crossing roads or people changing light bulbs, plus sundry disused material starting “Knock, knock.” The antique specimen involving the honeymoon couple in the bubble car was examined by the local acceptability officer and declared inadmissible.

We are confident that, taken together, these changes will produce a significant improvement in skills, particularly spelling and syntax, which will now be handled entirely by machine.

And yet. And yet… It is no longer enough to hoe the same row all one’s working life. We must, says Chancellor Brown, be more flexible, more willing to see our career not as a path leading straight to the safe haven of retirement, but rather as a series of trips down little known byways and not a few dead ends, leading to God knows where.

It is the duty of all, then, to scan the sits vac. As I was doing that, in a desultory way, my eye fell upon something which produced an effect not unlike that described by Shakespeare in one of his less frivolous moods. My two eyes, like stars, started from their spheres, my knotted and combined locks, or what remains of them, parted, and each particular hair stood on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine. In short, I was unpleasantly surprised.

This unsettling effect was provoked by the headline, “Meet new people all summer long”. Heaven knows, the prospect of summer in our climate provokes uncertainty if not foreboding. To add the expectation of spending the entire season meeting new Britons is to provide extra work for the already overburdened Samaritans.

This vision of the inner circle of hell is the work of Ipsos-RSL, which describes itself as the “UK’s largest market research company, with a number of high profile clients; not least, the British Government.” (Older readers will recall with nostalgia the days when that institution was called Her Majesty’s Government).

“Right now,” continues the ad in its breezy mid-Atlantic way, “we’re looking for confident, reliable and motivated individuals… to help us conduct a government survey into people, their families and communities… You’ll conduct interviews in people’s homes in and around London, recording their opinions and involvement in community life on a laptop computer.”

As job prospectuses go, it compares unfavourably with, say, life on a chain gang or dining with the Borgias. Not even the promise of “very attractive rates plus bonuses, expenses and holiday pay” could compensate for the dread that each Monday would hold, week after week, as the shadows lengthened, all summer long.

Just think, like it or not, you would be obliged to meet people who sucked their teeth, wore sunglasses on top of their head, had only one eyebrow, went jogging, said “no way”, wore beards, snapped their fingers at waiters, and called their children kids. You might even have the misfortune to encounter a celebrity.

And to what end would you endure this hell? To provide the Government with bogus statistics and focus-group baloney about people, their families and communities. It is not said why officialdom wants this information, but it seems likely that it will be used for some sort of social engineering project that we could well do without.

There is something sinister in taking money from people and using the proceeds to probe into their lives. Provided no law is broken, an individual, his family, and his involvement in “community” are his business and his alone. The Government should, to use a phrase that would no doubt appeal to the folk at Ipsos-RSL, butt out.

It used to be said an Englishman’s home was his castle, the implication being that outsiders entered at their own risk. This is no longer true, and probably never was, but there must remain, in and around London, some of the yeoman blood that longs to test if, as rumour has it, a laptop will fit into the rectum of a market researcher.

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