Men’s and Women’s achievements should be judged by the same criteria

The campaign by some feminist groups and female MPs to make the Bank of England replace Elizabeth Fry, the prison reformer, on its £5 notes from 2016 by another woman per se instead of its intended design featuring Winston Churchill (referred to by the campaigners as “another man”), has been deflected somewhat by the Bank’s deciding that Jane Austen should grace the £10 notes from 2017 when the present design featuring Charles Darwin is due to be replaced.  This appears to be the first decision of the new Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, who arrived from the Bank of Canada on July 1st.  Incidentally the Bank of Canada’s own banknotes have never featured an individual woman except the Queen.  (The “Group of Five” women statue in Ottawa which graced the reverse of the 50$ bills has been replaced in the recent issue of their new polymer banknotes by an ice-breaker.)

Criteria for being featured on Bank of England banknotes

The Bank of England’s present criteria for an historical figure to be featured on the reverse of its banknotes seem admirable, namely (slightly paraphrased): they should be British; their achievements should be indisputably of major significance, long established and recognised as such internationally; they should have broad name recognition and there should be a portrait or other image which can be recognisably reproduced within the relatively small area available.  Including now Sir Winston Churchill fifteen figures have been featured so far, Sir Isaac Newton and William Shakespeare being among the first.

From VE day in 1945 to his death in 1965, Churchill was the most illustrious person on the planet, known to billions by his face and famous V for victory sign, which is used all over the world today.  You would probably have to go back to the Duke of Wellington (d.1852) or Charles Darwin (d.1882) both of whom have featured on the Bank’s notes in the past, to find figures of comparably recognized achievement.  It is a source of amazement to many foreigners that 48 years after his death Churchill has not already featured on our banknotes.  Probably the requirement to have “long established” recognition has prevented his appearing up to now.

Great British Figures who have not so far featured on the Bank of England’s banknotes

British history is extraordinarily rich in people across the whole range of human achievement who fulfil the Bank’s criteria by making huge contributions of enduring historical significance.  Here is a selection of 15 from those who have yet(1) to appear on our banknotes:

1              Alfred the Great (849-899) founder of England and saviour of our English language;

2              Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) founder of English literature;

3              Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) lion-hearted protector of all things English, including the Anglican settlement;

4              Sir Francis Drake (1545-1596) explorer and victor over the Spanish Armada;

5              John Churchill, first duke of Marlborough (1650-1722) victor over Louis 14th of France at Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde;

6              Henry Purcell (1659-1695) landmark composer of anthems and opera;

7              John Wesley (1703-1791) founder of Methodism;

8              James Cook (1728-1779) principal navigator of the Pacific, Antarctica, Australia and New Zealand, claiming these latter for the British Empire.

9              Admiral Lord Nelson (1758-1805) victor of the Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar over the combined French and Spanish fleets;

10           William Wilberforce (1759-1833) chief campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade 1807;

11           Joseph Mallard William Turner (1775-1851) outstanding painter of light and colour – forerunner of impressionist school;

12           Michael Faraday (1791-1867) discoverer of electro-magnetism and electro-chemistry;

13           Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) engineer, builder of Great Western Railway, canals, bridges and ships, including the Great Eastern;

14           William Thomson Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) definer of the temperature scale and the science of the electric telegraph;

15           Joseph Lister (1827-1912) discoverer of anti-septic treatment of infection.

Except for numbers 1-3, 5, 8 and 9, there are at least another 15 of comparable achievement.  Distinguished writer as she is and much in vogue of late, Jane Austen is virtually unknown outside English-speaking literary circles and perhaps ten million followers of the public broadcasting networks in the USA and Britain.  Ranked alongside these giants though, Jane Austen is a relatively minor figure, as I believe she would herself concede if still alive.

Even if the ranking were restricted to writers, Austen would have to compete with John Wycliffe (first complete translation of the Bible into English and called the “Morning Star” of the Reformation), John Milton (Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained), John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress), Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Byron, Walter Scott, Tennyson, Spencer, Marlowe, Pope, Dryden, Swift, Samuel Johnson, the Bronté sisters, Trollope, Thomas Hardy, all of whom, like Austen, have an entry in France’s great encyclopaedia of famous people, La Rousse.  Austen herself is described by it as a “romancière”.

Constant pressure to include women as “representatives” in areas of distinction

In Britain and elsewhere in ABCANZ(2) there is constant pressure to include women in areas of distinction, not simply on merit, but primarily because they are women.   This applies to business (more women on boards), academia (more women professors), politics (all-women short lists for the selection of MPs(3)), the professions (more women engineers, barristers, judges), and the media especially where even men’s sports are now covered by women.  In the public sector, which is most exposed to this pressure, all short lists must include a woman and quite a number of women have received promotions with much less relevant experience than customarily demanded of a man.  In the award of senior state honours, quotas are clearly operating.

Modern-day Feminist obsessions are increasingly about feminist pride and personal advancement

A recent film “Made in Dagenham” described the strike by 167 female machinists in the Ford Plant at Dagenham in 1968.  The women wanted their job grade to be changed to reflect more accurately the value of the jobs they did.  Comparison with male semi-skilled jobs pointed to the justice of their cause.  Eventually the management and the unions (who were part of the grading system) gave in to most of their demands and production was restarted, after 55,000 people had been temporarily put out of work.

Nowadays equal pay for work reckoned to be of equal value is buttressed by the Equal Pay Act (1970) and later measures including Labour’s Equality Act (2006).  The battles for equal pay have been largely won.  Feminist pressure now comes mainly from middle class articulate women, often from overseas, who have little interest in Britain or its history.  They agitate not for equal pay as in the Dagenham case, but for equal female participation in what they see as prestige careers, usually at the expense of men in the early and middle years of their working lives.  This is referred to by limp, acquiescent senior management as promoting “diversity”.

Feminists try to deflect the charge of personal aggrandisement by saying these roles are models for girls at school, so they will choose careers where women are “under represented” in their view.  If it is pointed out that girls are quite capable of making choices of subject at school which interest them, and that most simply do not choose, for example the physical sciences or mathematics, that is dismissed as “societal” conditioning.

In their obsession with female “representation”, feminist pressure groups seem oblivious of the fact that in many cases what they are actually calling for is favouritism and that this should be tolerated, even encouraged, by men or at least those whose own personal positions are not threatened.  Feminists do not seem to realise or even care that in so far as it is successful this pressure undermines the respect for the sectors of national life to which it is applied and is bound to encounter resistance from men and those  talented women who have actually obtained their positions by genuine achievement in their fields.

“Diversity” obsessions hinder tackling genuine issues

“Diversity” language, much of it emanating from the USA, has now infected mainstream British media in a big way.  So Rhys Blakely in the Sunday Times, doing a piece on a Californian business “Ycombinator” which has been responsible for incubating 564 new IT companies worth now about £7 billion in total, cannot resist asking why so few women (about 7%) are included.  The owner of the business, Paul Graham, an Englishman, simply says, “I don’t really care.  Anyone can apply”.

And this is the exact point.  Nobody in Britain is telling any woman or girl that they “can’t apply” – quite the reverse.  The number one issue in Britain affecting literally millions of women is the cost of child care for a woman in work.  This can take virtually the whole of one after-tax salary of a working couple, or keep a single mother on benefits rather than work.

Britain doesn’t need US-style feminist activism about heads on banknotes or the number of female directors of large companies.  These things are well out of the reach of the vast majority of women: what they really need is an economy that works for them.  Like men, most would say the best guarantor of this is people appointed exclusively on ability to do the job.  Britain has spent much of the 20th century getting rid of, or at least greatly reducing, the effects of self-perpetuating and self-promoting privileged  groups of men.  The country certainly doesn’t need or want to replace these groups with another form of cronyism – self-promoting groups of women (30% clubs and the like) in the 21st century.

Summing up

Its set of banknotes constitute a unique vehicle for a country to display to the world those of its historical figures which it regards as its most distinguished contributors to the major categories of human achievement.

For the Bank of England to depart from this principle for the sake of political nostrums of the day, would diminish itself and our country in the eyes of its fellow citizens and the wider world.


(1)  Fourteen have appeared so far, plus Churchill due in 2016.  With the exception of Sir John Houblon, the standard has been very high.

(2)  Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, United States.

(3)  This is actually illegal under UK anti-discrimination legislation, but has been ignored by all British political parties.

Top| Home

Leave a Reply

Top| Home