MI5 recruitment: I’m quaking in my boots

The Duke of Wellington famously said about his troops, “I don’t know what effect these men will have on the enemy, but by God, they terrify me.”

Reading a whole-page recruitment ad for MI5, I felt like saying the same thing, though not exactly in the same spirit.

First, the minor matter: language. I know that my preoccupation with the fine points of English grammar may strike some readers as pedantic, but I’d rather be accused of pedantry than any of its cognate vices.

Here I must say on the basis of my own 30-years’ experience of writing ads that sometimes copywriters mangle English on purpose, not because they are ignorant. They may simply use the kind of idiom they feel will have the desired effect.

For example, many years ago I was asked to produce a recruitment ad for a soul-food restaurant in Texas. The owner was looking for a cook, ideally a middle-aged black woman. The trouble was that US laws made it impossible to say either ‘middle-aged’ or ‘black’ or ‘woman’.

With the deviousness I’ve since lost I wrote, “If you can cook good like a lady should, call…” The grammar was atrocious, the effect much better. The owner received 45 applications, all but one from the desired demographic group.

Hence I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to MI5, whose ad ends with this sentence: “You should not discuss your application, other than with your partner or a close family member, providing they are British.” The sentence may be offensive, but perhaps deliberately so.

‘A close family member…’ followed by ‘they’ is worse than illiterate – it’s politically correct, which betokens spineless submission to fascistic diktats, not something one welcomes in a security outfit. As in most instances, the writer could have mollified his flaming conscience without raping the English language by simply saying ‘close family members’.

I also strenuously object, for some of the same reasons, to the use of ‘partner’ this side of sex manuals, tennis or a business context. At best such locution points at a tin ear; at worst, and typically, it’s dictated by an ideological rejection of words normally used for centuries to describe human relationships.

And of course ‘providing’ instead of ‘provided’ is simply illiterate, but mercifully without any PC connotations.

There are only two possibilities here: one, the writer is a functional illiterate; two, his sponsoring organisation encouraged him to phrase in this way in order to attract exactly the type of recruit it wishes to employ.

Considering that the organisation in question is expected to frustrate the knavish tricks of our enemies, I hesitate to decide which option is scarier. Either MI5 is already staffed with ideologically motivated ignoramuses or it deliberately wishes to attract such applicants. One way or the other, I won’t have a moment’s rest.

It gets worse, as demonstrated by these two consecutive sentences:

“As an equal opportunities employer, the selection of new recruits is based on merit, irrespective of gender [meaning sex, but let it pass, along with the bad sentence structure], age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or religion.”

“The Security Service is committed to reflecting the society it protects… and is particularly interested in hearing from women and individuals from ethnic minority groups.”

First, it may be only me, but a service supposed to protect our physical wellbeing by every expedient, including violent ones, would be ill-advised to hire cripples.

Second, even in our progressive times certain ‘sexual orientations’ may make their practitioners susceptible to blackmail. Surely, this is a factor of danger for those with access to classified information?

Third, it’s fairly obvious that illiteracy is only one of the writer’s failings. Logic is another.

Anyone endowed with even a minuscule knack for sequential thought would see that the second sentence is a non sequitur to the first. If the selection is based on merit, as the first sentence claims, then why would MI5 be “particularly interested in hearing from women and individuals from ethnic minority groups”?

What if – and it’s a wildly hypothetical and unlikely if – every white, male English candidate is better qualified than those from the preferred groups? Will MI5 still hire ethnic women?

I’m not suggesting for a second that it shouldn’t, for fear that the skies will open and I’ll be smitten by a vengeful lightning cast by Our Father of Political Correctness. I’m just pointing out the lamentable deficit of elementary logic.

And which ethnic and religious group does MI5 have in mind? All of them? Let’s see: perhaps the greatest threat to our security nowadays comes from Islamic terrorism. One would think – for purely practical reasons – that under such circumstances treating Muslim recruits preferentially is, to put it kindly, ill-advised.

By all means, hire the odd one for his linguistic prowess or perhaps for infiltration purposes. But preferential treatment? The expression ‘the lunatics running the asylum’ springs to mind.

Getting back to the first sentence, what on earth does it mean, “The Security Service is committed to reflecting the society it protects”?

For security reasons alone, I’d suggest that this is the last thing the Service ought to be committed to. After two generations of our oxymoronic comprehensive education, the society MI5 is supposed to protect is largely made up of people who can’t read and add up properly. Is this the characteristic our guardians wish to reflect?

Or is it society’s near total alienation from the millennium and a half of Western civilisation, as it has developed in these Isles? Its propensity for drunkenness and hooliganism? Its wanton disregard for every moral and civic virtue? Its widespread infantilism?

Those called upon to protect our society should be a cut above it in intellect, morals, strength of character and patriotism. They should reflect society’s increasingly rare virtues, not its lamentably widespread vices.

And the upshot of it all? Be afraid, be very afraid.    

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