Strictly come off the fence – the CIPD, John Sergeant and the BNP: off message

Last week was truly a week that shook the world. Kind of. For if you read the newspapers (the sensible ones included) or watched the TV news (including the usually super serious Newsnight), the big story was former BBC political correspondent John Sergeant deciding to walk from the hit TV show Strictly Come Dancing. Setting aside the argument that he had in fact walked, rather than waltzed, his way through the show anyway, Sergeant’s actions speak volumes for his ability to understand the zeitgeist and actually be ahead of the curve (unlike in the show, where he was consistently two steps behind the curves of Russian dance partner Kristina Rihanoff).

The fat-n-friendly Thatcher victim, and former speaker at the Personnel Today HR Directors Club, Sergeant made the ultimate sacrifice and threw himself on his sword (metaphorically, of course) by taking the high ground and taking himself off of the TV reality/unreality dance show.

Sergeant was able to understand that leaving was the noble course of action – and the only course of action for a right-thinking individual.

By the right

The other ‘earth shattering’ bit of news to slap the nation in the face as it went to work will no doubt also have had an impact on all right-thinking people – although in this case those of the right-of-centre, unthinking variety. For 12,000 or so members of the British National Party (BNP) were outed online when a full list of their names, addresses and other details was posted on the internet for the world to see. Fortunately, neither Sergeant nor Rihanoff are on the list, and none of the Strictly Come Dancing judges make an appearance, despite their hardline stance over the Sergeant quickstep.

Thankfully, no-one from the Personnel Today office makes an appearance on the list of shame. However, there is at least one member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which certainly raises the question of a conflict of interest arising about the advice they give.

Naturally, Personnel Today asked the CIPD what its position was with regard to its members being members of far-right, intolerant political organisations.

Like Sergeant’s actions, it spoke volumes. But unlike Sergeant, it sat on the fence: “We do not know, nor are we willing to discuss, the political affiliations or personal opinions of individual CIPD members,” it said.

Is it right that an organisation representing professionals who deal with matters of recruitment and retention, redundancies and promotions should be so tolerant of an individual so intolerant of others? The BNP’s toned-down-for-public-consumption reasons for existing include a “system of voluntary resettlement whereby those immigrants who are legally here will be afforded the opportunity to return to their lands of ethnic origin assisted by generous financial incentives both for individuals and for the countries in question”, “British jobs for British people”, and a complete withdrawal from the EU, to name but a few. Unfortunately, what’s missing is the detail. For instance, would I be deported for having a non-British grandparent?

Out of step

The BNP list was undoubtedly the second biggest talking point on the worldwide web, and it provoked a flurry of internet activity in, of all places, Mumsnet, with comments ranging from mums admitting to being BNP members to other, more hardcore, mums considering “posting shit” through their neighbour’s letterbox because they appear on the list.

Such an extreme response is also a reflection of the zeitgeist, as is the nosy neighbour journalism that elevates a TV dance-off and membership of a minor political party to make front page news.

We currently live in a nation gripped by fear, stoked up by over-cautious politicians keen to introduce ever more controls on our daily lives – whether through the introduction of meaningless ID cards or draconian detention times for ‘suspected’ terrorists. And when recession strikes, as one just has, the knee-jerk reaction of the capitalist is to close the borders, get all protectionist, and make sure anyone who looks slightly foreign gets banged up for at least 28 days. Why, even Gordon Brown joined in with his landmark speech on ‘British jobs for British people’ (‘The Brown Ultimatum’, Personnel Today, 11 March) and, interestingly, if you click through to that article online, the pop-up ad is for the ID card for migrant workers that goes live on 25 November.

Quick march

But imposing such constraints on a nation can have a galvanising effect – particularly on those with a tendency to lean to the right. And inspiring feelings of helplessness inevitably ends up stirring up rampant xenophobia. Given the right economic conditions, ie, a recession, this sort of thing can lead to all out war, as we know from the 20th century when the German people, constrained by an economic straitjacket imposed by the victors of the First World War, inexplicably sought refuge in the idealistic warblings of a runty man called Hitler. We all know what happened next.

I’m not suggesting that Sergeant’s departure, nor the BNP list and the CIPD’s lack of spine will lead to a global conflagration. But what Sergeant did was weigh up his options and decide to go – as even thick-skinned journalists think twice about being branded an unco-ordinated lump every week by angry judges who believe their ‘dance’ programme has been hijacked by a porcine interloper. Strictly Come Dancing was hoist on its own leotard, as it were, by not having thought about its voting system more carefully.

And what of the CIPD? Now would seem a good time to get off the fence and have an opinion – or, at the very least, a code of conduct that precludes the propagation of extremist and blatantly unequal views, such as those held by members of the BNP.

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