Cheers, Dave

So, David Cameron left the office of Prime Minister this afternoon.  Many paid tribute to him for his 6 years of service to the country.  Many others consider that any and all good he may have done over that time was well and truly torpedoed by his decision to call a Referendum on our membership of the European Union, which “he” then lost.

Much of the criticism of Cameron in the last 3 weeks has been by (largely, Remain voters) expressing the view that the electorate should not have been given the vote on whether the United Kingdom remained a member of the EU.  Understandably, this has been called out by Leave voters as sour grapes, because the vote went the other way.

He promised a Referendum, in order to unite his own party, rather than in in the interests of the country – so the criticism runs.  He gambled everything, and lost, so they say.  He should not be applauded or thanked, because he has plunged the United Kingdom into political, economic, legal and social turmoil.

The United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union affects every single person in the 4 countries, and each person in a slightly different way.  Why shouldn’t the people have their say once every 40 years or so?  If Cameron hadn’t pledged a Referendum, he would undoubtedly have lost Conservative MPs to UKIP.  Now that’s a rock and a hard place if ever there was one.  If not him, then the next Conservative Prime Minister may well have gone on to hold a Referendum in the face of increasing political fragmentation and increasing unrest in our society.

Whatever Cameron’s reasoning behind the fact and timing of the Referendum, it is clearly an issue about which the electorate felt strongly.  72% of the eligible electorate voted.  It mattered to the people.  And it is unacceptable for anyone to say it should never have happened, that the public couldn’t be trusted with such an important decision.

Would a Labour Prime Minister ever have called a Referendum on EU membership in the light of consistent calls to let the people decide the fate of the country? Certainly not in this Parliament (had Labour come to power in 2015), and maybe never.  The self-styled People’s Party may have maintained that in Government, it knew best as far as Europe was concerned, and the people should not have a say.  I am of course speculating here – and I may stand corrected by those who know more about the Labour Party than I.

Is the drop in Sterling, the now even-more-frosty relationship with the rest of the EU, the outpouring of anti-immigration feeling and blatant racism, and the years of uncertainty the Brexit vote will now cause, all Cameron’s fault?

Not really.  It’s the fault of the campaigners on both sides who told untruths to try and win (including Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne, as well as the other lot, the Leave people whose names now escape me – where did they all go?).  The people who urged us not to listen to experts – after all, what would they know?  It’s the fault of people who voted Leave as a protest who never thought it would actually happen.  It’s the fault of people who voted without knowing what they were voting for. It’s the fault of the nearly 30% of the electorate who just let the whole thing wash over them.  And, as I said in my last post, it is the fault of all of us (including me) who could have done more to increase understanding of exactly what was at stake before people went to the polls (or didn’t), not the day after.

Being Prime Minister is not about the money.  Yes, it is a well paid job but I can assure you that David Cameron has just increased his market value considerably on leaving Downing Street.  No doubt consultancy positions, patronages of organisations needing a figurehead and non-exec directorships will be winging their way to him before too long.

It may partly be about power, status and influence.  But as Tony Blair is now finding out, a rash decision, a poor decision, any chink in the armour of a Prime Minister, will come back to haunt them for the rest of their days.  A bit of a double edged sword, you’ll have to agree.

There can be no doubt that holding the office of Prime Minister requires huge sacrifices, of family time, of relaxation, of privacy, of personal safety and security, and very little chance to just be a person, with all the flaws and idiosyncrasies that each of us inevitable have.  It is a supreme work of public service.

Maybe Cameron’s best wasn’t good enough.  But I’m in no doubt that he took the job seriously, worked hard at it for his 6 years in office and did what he felt was for the best – albeit through Conservative eyes with which many do not see (including me, I must add here). For that, he should be respected.

Cheers, Dave.

“doo, doo, doo, doo. Right. Good.”


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Bit of Politics….

Obviously I’m writing this in the days following the referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union or leave it.

I voted to stay in, but that’s really only incidental to this post.  I really don’t mind if you voted to leave or remain, as long as you knew what you were doing and why.

What I do mind, and I really mind, is that some people made uninformed choices on Thursday 23rd June, which they are now reportedly regretting.  I also mind that nearly 30% of the eligible electorate stayed away from the polling stations.  In neither case is this because I think they should all have voted to remain in the EU.

No, it is because I believe our society has failed to ensure that the relevance of politics to every single citizen of the United Kingdom has been made out adequately and failed to make clear to everyone the potential consequences of the actions of politicians and the Government on our society and our future.

I include myself in that declaration of societal failure.  I could have done more to increase understanding of the political spectrum, the political process and the significance of a national Referendum.  I’m not talking about in the last 3 weeks, I’m talking about over the last 20 years.

I feel fortunate to have studied and worked in areas where an understanding of politics is fundamental to being able to progress.  But I’ve spent my adult life in society where sex, religion and politics are all no-go areas for discussion.  Except (in the last 10 years or so) sex.

My earliest memory of politics is aged about 12, when a schoolfriend’s dad was running for local council, standing for the Liberal Party (pre-merger with the SDP).  She and I waved yellow ribbons around school all day, having not the faintest idea what they stood for.

When I did my A Levels, I chose Sociology as a wild card.  I very quickly realised that I enjoyed it and gave it all my effort (to the detriment of History and French, the first of which I dropped out of, and the second of which I was booted off for non-attendance and general lack of application).  Going into the Upper Sixth with only 2 subjects still willing to have me, I opted for an intensive 1-year Politics and Government A Level (which was designed primarily for re-sit students as a refresher).  I reasoned that to be good at Sociology, I needed to understand the political forces at work on the range of sociological viewpoints.

The lecturer was a committed Left-winger.  He referred to the Conservative Party as the “Bloody Bastard Tories”.  He was unable to deliver lectures the day after the 1992 General Election through sheer grief that the Labour Party had lost.  I thought he was being  melodramatic.  I didn’t like him, I thought he was “Loony-Left” and I screwed up his crappy A Level big style.

Despite this, I secured a place at Bath University to study Sociology with Industrial Relations.  In my placement year, I fluked a job with MORI (now Ipsos MORI), as a Research Assistant to the Political Team.  I learnt so much from being in that environment.  In that year, I visited the Houses of Parliament regularly (ok, so it was to deliver post) and worked on their 2-yearly MP’s Attitudes survey (well, I photocopied it).  But I was immersed in an environment where politics was the focus, day in, day out.  One of my jobs was to scour the papers for political stories and/or mentions of MORI to deliver the daily press bulletin to the then Chairman, Robert Worcester.

After graduation, I went to Law School.  An understanding of politics was fundamental to at least 2 of the Foundation subjects (Public and Constitutional Law and EC Law – as it then was).  I remember drawing the political spectrum Left to Right for a fellow student who hadn’t studied politics to that point.

As an employment lawyer, the inevitable metronome of Right, to Left and back again profoundly influenced the laws on which I advised.  Politics inextricably entwined with the law I love so much.  Even though I have now left the legal profession, the influence of politics on employment law remains relevant in my new career as an HR practitioner.

I have made it my business to understand politics.  I’ve watched the power struggles, posturing, question-avoiding and outright bullshitting by politicians all my adult life.  I’ve already lived under 2 Prime Ministers who had no public mandate – John Major and Gordon Brown (to be fair, John Major achieved his in the 1992 General Election and stayed in power for a further 5 years), and here we are about to have a 3rd, heaven only knows who it will be.  I’m appalled by the lies, the sleaze, the blame, the infighting and playground tactics.  But I will not disengage.  My right to vote was hard-fought.  My freedom to associate myself wherever I see fit and vote how I like, I don’t take that for granted.

But I haven’t really done anything to engage others with politics.  I’m not really sure how I would or could have done this.  I’m not sure even now, but I think those of us who are engaged need to have a long hard think about those who are not, why they are not, what we can learn from it, and what (if anything) we can do about it.  As I said at the beginning of this post, this is not a sour grapes Remain voter having a go at Leave.  This is a reaction to the reports that some voters did not really expect their vote to count or that they regret voting the way they did.

When I stood in the booth on Thursday with my voting slip, I felt it to be momentous.  I looked at it very carefully to make sure I put my cross in the box of my choice.  I knew that in a Referendum, every single vote would count.  I am devastated to learn that some others did not appreciate that significance.  We are all responsible for that.

My vision is for these uncertain and difficult times to lead to higher voter turnout and higher levels of political engagement.  The last 20 years have involved a lot of head-shaking and shoulder shrugging from the politicians, the activists and the voters “ah well, turnout was low, you can lead a horse to water etc etc….”.  Not good enough, society – not good enough.

I don’t know quite what I am going to do about it.  I have no immediate plan.  But I don’t think I’m the only one judging by the news reports….




Posted in Hot topics, Rants | 2 Comments

Desperately Seeking Damon

UPDATE: I wrote this post over a year ago, unfortunately I didn’t find Damon but I did find a very worthy cause to which to hand over the print. A friend of mine is organising a charity dinner this Autumn in aid of the Matt Hampson Foundation ( Compered by James Corden, the event aims to raise much needed funds to help young people who suffer catastrophic injuries through sport live as normal a life as possible. If you know or can contact Damon Hill for me – please help me, to help the Matt Hampson Foundation, to help injured youngsters to “Get Busy Living”.



Some years ago, I dealt with an extremely difficult case where emotions ran high.  An employee (who was still employed) brought claims against their employer and their manager.

The employee was unrepresented but wouldn’t communicate via Acas.  I walked a tightrope during hours of telephone discussions with him as I wanted him to know that he was being listened to by his employer but equally wanted him to understand that I represented them and was not advising him.  My file notes ran to several pages.

Once the matter was resolved, I received a mysterious package.  The employee had evidently checked out my profile on the firm’s website (moral: be careful what you put in your biogs folks!) and had decided to send me a limited edition print of Damon Hill (original by Ross Wardle).  He wanted to thank me for listening to him.

I discussed the matter with my then…

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Posted in Making sense of employment law | Leave a comment

Madam knows best

Those of you who know me a bit will know that a reference to a “Madam” is usually to one of my delightful, yet high-maintenance, daughters.

Not this time.

Last night, I attended a seminar given by Madam Becky Adams, who has turned 20 years of experience in the sex industry into a customer service and mystery shopper consultancy with an unusual (but nevertheless compelling) take on why potential customers either take the leap, or run away and never come back.



Customers buy if their fears and preconceptions are soothed.  No matter what the business is, emotional connection to the customer is the key to winning the business.  On more than one occasion at last night’s seminar, someone was heard to proclaim that “people buy people”.

Which is why – NEWSFLASH – a business that invests in ensuring that its employees are fully engaged with the ethos and purpose of the business will always do better than one which treats staff as no more a necessary evil.

Now, Madam Becky was not talking about employee engagement.  She was talking about what gets customers through the door for the first time and then again and again.  In her (paraphrased) words,  successful businesses are those that communicate to potential customers not only their “what” and “how”, but also their “why” – the driving force, the vision.

However, the parallels to employee engagement are so obvious.  Engaging employees is not about the “what” a business does  (the products or services), or “how” a business does what it does (the resources and processes).  It is about buy-in to the “WHY”, the very reason for its existence.  People who understand and are are passionate about “WHY”, will exude that to potential customers and thus enhance the customer service experience from first contact throughout the relationship, which may endure for decades.


The burning question…


An oft-cited exemplar of engagement is of course The John Lewis Partnership.  Their “WHY” is  – and I quote – the happiness of Partners through worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business”. This is, in my view, the ultimate in employee engagement, a business that exists for the benefit of the employees.  And my goodness, doesn’t it work?  I have never yet had a bad experience in John Lewis or Waitrose – have you?

Whilst businesses who exist purely for the benefit of their staff rather than shareholders or investors are relatively rare, there are still plenty of businesses whose employees buy in to the “WHY” and who benefit from employee commitment.  Take, as another example, the Save Britain Money Group, currently 5th in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies To Work For.  Anyone who knows me will know how much of a fan I am of Call Centre.  Like a “house of ill-repute”, it is a difficult business with challenging working conditions (we all know how we feel when we’re cold-called). Nevertheless,  they say:

“Our mission is to increase the disposable income of consumers across the UK through money saving products and services. From home energy efficiency to great value insurance products we are saving Britain money.”

If you’ve ever watched The Call Centre on BBC3 you’ll have seen the (in many cases) indirect buy-in to the business mission, often secured with reference to the MD’s catchphrases.  My favourite is “SWSWSWN” = Some Will, Some Won’t, So What, NEXT!  What a mantra for cold callers.

For anyone who may be wondering at the “WHY” of a “house of ill-repute” (Madam Becky’s words, not mine.), it was in their case simply this: SAFETY, RESPECT, FUN.  Anything suggested by a customer that didn’t meet those criteria was rejected.  End of.  Everyone in the business was empowered to make that call. Anyone who didn’t buy into those values, was out.

Do you have a “WHY”? Have you empowered your employees? Does everyone buy in to your values and do you tolerate those who don’t?

BIG QUESTIONS – I’d love to know your thoughts….

Getting it right: Nev Wilshire of "The Call Centre"

Getting it right: Nev Wilshire of “The Call Centre”





Posted in employee engagement, Hot topics | 2 Comments

Work and breastfeeding – are they compatible?

In the light of the recently published ACAS Guidance on Accommodating breastfeeding in the Workplace, this is what I wrote in March 2013. The ACAS guidance is well written and contains useful examples on a topic that cause confusion :


The NHS Infant Feeding Survey (carried out every 5 years) consistently shows that the majority of women stop breastfeeding by the time their child is 6 months old (just 1% of women are still breastfeeding exclusively by this time, although 34% are partially breastfeeding).  Of those who continue beyond 6 months, this will naturally decrease in frequency as many babies will have replaced at least some milk feeds with solid food by around 9 months.

As the default period of maternity leave is 12 months (of which 9 attract statutory maternity pay), it will be relatively rare to encounter a mother who is still fully breastfeeding when she returns to work.  Women who choose or are compelled for financial reasons to return to work after just a few months are those most likely to be doing so.

How can they possibly continue? There may be a handful of women whose…

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Posted in Making sense of employment law | Leave a comment

Why I teach… (reprise)

I’ve just finished back to back presenting gigs for my long standing client BPP Professional Education.  Yesterday in London and today in Manchester I ran the Settlement Agreement Masterclass.

Now, I don’t want anyone to be under any illusion that professional training is in any way glamorous.  I left my house at 6:45 yesterday morning and I will land back there at 8:15 tonight.  I’ve traveled 500 miles (give or take). I’ve been on my feet for 12 hours.  I’ve missed 2 consecutive bedtimes with my children which means I will get the cold shoulder from at least one, if not both, of them tomorrow.   I’m not asking you to get the violins out, but just don’t think it’s a walk in the park – that’s all.

Nor, in my case at least, is professional training hugely lucrative.  Certain topics lend themselves to repeating the same structure and materials and delivering a finely tuned, slick and fully interactive and engaging session over and over again, which can turn out to be a money spinner for those who are able to make a career of it.  Sadly (for me at least), employment law is not one of those topics – because the Government, our domestic courts and the European Courts keep moving the bloody goalposts.  Course materials for employment law courses invariably require updating every few months and that impacts on the structure of the courses, and the amount of preparation required in advance of each session.

Add to that the diversity of delegates one welcomes on to a public course and there’s not a cat in hell’s chance of running an employment law course to the same structure, format and timings time and time again.

So, I ran the same course yesterday and today.  I had the same materials and the same knowledge in my head both days.  But the 2 courses were totally different. The mix of delegates was challenging.  How do I make the course meet the learning objectives of a trainee solicitor and also the corporate partner sitting next to them?  How do I make sure that the single HR manager in the room doesn’t feel out-lawyered? What, in the name of all that is holy, can I teach employment practitioners who have been doing this job longer than I have?

Well, I spend each day trying my hardest to empathise with each delegate and involve everyone in the dialogue around the subject matter. It’s a fine line between engaging with delegates and picking on the ones who would rather be left alone.  I need to allow discussion to flow freely but rein in the tangents and stop the hijackers.  I must never, ever commit the cardinal sin of being late for lunch, lest the venue have run out of buffet.  Most importantly though, I will always give my opinion about the subject matter and encourage others to HAVE an opinion about the subject matter.

Why do I do it?

For those fleeting moments where a delegate comes up at the end of the day and says that the course has convinced them that they definitely want to practise employment law.  Or an HR professional tells me they didn’t feel out-lawyered.  Or I take a sneaky peek at the feedback forms and delegates have taken the time to write nice things about the course that I worked so hard to make relevant and interesting, and my delivery of it.

Like I always say – opinions matter.  They matter to me. And that is why I teach.

Also on this topic – “Wear Sunscreen – or, Why I Teach”


Posted in Making sense of employment law | Leave a comment

HR Bath – who wants to jump in?

As friends both online and offline are well aware, I am a massive fan of Twitter and take every opportunity to sing its praises.  Nowhere else can one initiate conversations with real people from all walks of life in quite the way that Twitter allows.

Indeed, only last week, the Reverend Richard Coles (who in an earlier career was one half of 80’s pop legends The Communards) very kindly told me which local supermarkets stock the herb mace.  No, really!

But that (chortleworthy as it is) is not the purpose of this post.  The real reason is a call to HR arms.  Let me explain…

I graduated from the University of Bath in 1997 with a BSc in Sociology with Industrial Relations.  How I went full circle into and back out of the legal profession and ultimately into HR consultancy is a long story.  For many years I was unaware that the School of Management has an active HR Alumni programme as I was “legal” not “HR”.

Yep, it's a bath.  Picture of University too obvious I thought.

Yep, it’s a bath. Picture of University too obvious I thought.

Anyway, I am now back in the fold and properly chuffed to be going to my first event next Tuesday 17th September, back at the University.

Imagine my glee, when I received the itinerary for the day and discovered the final session of the day is to be facilitated by Jessica Cooper (@JessicaCooperHR) and to cover Social Media in HR.  Bizarrely, we were already connected, but neither knew that the other had studied at Bath….

Anyway, we had a chat this morning and Jessica shared her ideas for the session.  We thought it would be really rather fantastic to put on a live Twitter chat to show any non-believers the power of Twitter and the scope of expertise and opinion around HR and related topics which inhabits the Twittersphere.

So that’s the plan folks.  If you work in, or around HR, you are welcome.  Thought leader, thought follower, whatever.  If you have an opinion on the place of social media in HR then gatecrash the session, join in our discussion, and help us to show a potentially uninitiated audience the true power of Twitter!

To the uninitiated, this is just a crap drawing of a blue bird.  Can we change that?

To the uninitiated, this is just a crap drawing of a blue bird. Can we change that?

“But how?” I hear you cry….

Join us for #HRBath - rubber ducky is strictly optional

Join us for #HRBath – rubber ducky is strictly optional

Be on Twitter at 2pm on Tuesday 17th September and look for the #HRBath hashtag.  I will be curating the Twitter chat as Jessica facilitates the discussion in the room.  She would like to focus on 2 questions in particular (as she is shortly to begin a PhD on this very topic – how cool is that??):

Q1 – How might organisations use social media to give insight into employee attitudes and behaviour?

Q2 – How might organisations use social media to deliver HR strategy?

If you would like to participate but cannot join us live, why not comment on this post?

Opinions matter….

Posted in Making sense of employment law | 2 Comments