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Isn't it time we rewarded niceness?

If I were in charge of the Big Society, I think a little bit of my soul would die each time a new reality TV show came to our screens. On the one hand, we're supposed to be encouraging quiet selflessness and care for our fellow citizen. On the other, we celebrate people who say out loud on national television that "weak people... are a waste of space". It's a mixed message to be sending to impressionable young people.

The new series of The Apprentice starts next Tuesday; a weekly sermon preaching that nastiness sells, and that social skills are an evolutionary disadvantage. Among the contestants are a project manager from Cheshire who "will do whatever it takes to win"; a Scouse optician who brags that he's "all mouth", and a London estate agent who reckons: "If you are successful, you are unpopular, so unpopularity is a good thing."

If he relishes being unpopular, I suppose that at least he's in the right job. In my workplace, the kindest and most popular colleagues also tend to be the most successful, whereas I've met about 50 estate agents in the last two months and they all seem hell-bent on making me hate them.

But do we really want a nation of estate agents? And why are the Alan Sugars and Simon Cowells of this world allowed to promote the 20th-century mantra that if someone's "got something to say" that it's best to "say it to your face"?

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when things changed, but before Big Brother there was a time when the rule said: "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." Then came Big Brother series four, when all the contestants were nice and stayed friends and we got to see Jon Tickle sunbathing in his swim shorts while reading Shakespeare.

This alone could not prop up viewing figures, however, and series five took the view that a daily dose of all-out aggression was the answer. Then The X Factor launched later that year, copying the formula of "to your face" abuse.

If I were in charge of the Big Society, I wouldn't pick Lord Sugar as Enterprise Tsar but would find instead a nicely brought up champion who knows how to get on with people and uses kindness and tact to become a success.

Lord Jon Tickle sounds pretty good to me, and he would look terrific in all that ermine.