Simon English: A Government giddy on celebrity deserves Mary's wishful shopping list

Outlook Sir Humphrey wanders into the study at Number 10. "I have Mary Portas on the phone for you Prime Minister." The PM is wading through "her vision for the future of our high streets" and is suddenly feeling very depressed. "Tell her I'm out to lunch," he sighs. "On second thoughts, tell her she is."

Cameron has only himself to blame. His Government's obsession with getting celebrities to investigate matters in the name of appearing to be "Doing Something" is getting absurd. Some of the celebrity reports even seem to be in conflict.

They got Carol Vorderman to look into maths. She concluded that it would be helpful if we all knew more of it, though of course that might make us better at working out what is a bargain and what is not, which could be bad for shops.

In June 2010, Cameron appointed Martha Lane Fox as his "digital champion", to "encourage as many people as possible to go online", a remit that also rather clashes with the bid to save the high street.

They had Sir Philip Green investigate government efficiency – he says there isn't any, but would quite like people to shop at BhS.

And that property lass off Location, Location, Location, well, she's probably up to something as well. But if people spend all their money doing up houses, the high street really is finished.

The Portas report took seven months and is 50 pages long (I read it so you don't have to). Her proposals are these: shops should be better; people should be nicer to each other; we should have more car boot sales; and more bingo nights. (Eh?)

Veering into sociology, the "Queen of Shops" offers: "We no longer value human interaction, socialising or being part of something bigger than ourselves." That we might regain these things through shopping is a depressing thought. The bingo nights could help though.

Perhaps the reason that people are spending less on the high street is not because shops are bad but because they don't have any money. On this issue Ms Portas is silent.

Even if she is a retail genius, the effect of her brilliant schemes can only be to shift money away from one place and towards another rather than to create wealth. In Portas's mind, armies of volunteer town rangers will man high streets, scaring off yobs and beautifying "spaces".

The chances of this happening are barely north of zero. Oh, and there's some stuff about town planning, which might make a small difference, but is bound to have unintended negative consequences elsewhere, because there always are.

At the back, there's some slightly hectoring "advice to Britain's shopkeepers". They must "stand for something", they should "connect with our values", they should give good service as a "basic right" of mankind.

Then you get to this bit: "Mary Portas is a trademark." Which rather gives the game away that the person most likely to benefit from this report is Mary Portas. It is promotional activity for a brand.

The Government will respond to the recommendations in the spring, says the press release. Of course it will.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Pricing Analyst

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pricing Analyst to join a leading e-...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is a mul...

Guru Careers: C# Project Team Lead

£55 - 65k (DOE): Guru Careers: A unique opportunity for a permanent C# Develop...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor