Claire Black: Excruciating and Agonising, Chloe Smith was offensively out of her depth

‘EVER think you’re incompetent?” Talk about a rhetorical question. Sometimes when Jeremy Paxman tears into an interviewee it’s like watching cock-fighting in which one of the birds is actually a battery-farmed chicken already packed in its polystyrene tray.

But when he marinaded and skewered Treasury minister Chloe Smith the other night over the government’s decision to pull a massive U-ey (that’s a technical term) on petrol tax, I’d have cheered him on, had I not had my fist in my mouth.

Excruciating. Agonising. Almost unendurable. Smith was offensively out of her depth, something that 385,415 people have now witnessed on YouTube. They have marvelled at her ineptitude. They might also have wondered why the most junior minister in the government was asked to defend her bosses’ decision?

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But what many people also seem to be wondering is whether Smith’s gender had something to do with it?

Smith is 30. She became a Conservative candidate at 25 and was elected as an MP at 27. Appointed to the Treasury team two years later, that’s what you might call a meteoric rise. Some hinted that for a party with persistent problems in the gender representation department – there just aren’t enough women millionaires to promote – Smith was useful. Others suggested this was a load of sexist tosh and she was there on merit. But on the evidence of the Paxman pasting, that simply cannot be the case.

There have been claims that Smith’s treatment at the hands of male interviewers was particularly rough, as though a 30-year-old woman should’ve been treated more gently. To which I say (quoting Paxman, no less): is this a joke?

You don’t get to where Smith has got to without having quite a sense of your own capabilities and at least some smarts to back it up. She earns 65 grand a year and works in the department responsible for the economy at a time of national economic crisis – she should know what she’s doing.

That Smith isn’t up to it says nothing about women in politics, but about the indefensible behaviour of her bosses, both in terms of why they hired her and what they’re doing in government. And maybe something about Smith’s arrogance too.

If this is a joke, none of us should be laughing.

APPARENTLY the reading skills of the smartest Scottish 15-year-olds from disadvantaged families are 2.75 years behind those of the smartest kids of the same age from well-off backgrounds. That’s more than twice as big as the gap between young people in Iceland, Germany and Finland.

Out of 23 countries studied, Scotland had the worst discrepancy in educational attainment between the most able young people from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds. For shame.

A DIFFERENT set of figures but still shaming. According to a poll, seven out of ten people think women should not wear bikinis after the age of 39. I mean really?

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Obviously this is a moot point in Scotland where our climate dictates that bikinis are as pointless as white trousers, suede shoes and jackets that you can shoot peas through, but still, 39.

How weird it is that as we live longer than ever before, we have so little tolerance for the bodies we live in?