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Former Dragons Den star, James Caan, takes flight after awkward start to internship campaign

Figurehead for Opening Doors scheme is left red-faced by accusations of nepotism
  • @oliver_wright

James Caan had a face like thunder. “I’ve got nothing more to say,” he snapped. “I’ve said everything already.” Oh dear. Day one of Caan’s new “work placement” in the political limelight was not going well.

It all started the moment it was announced that the Dragon’s Den star and entrepreneur was to front the Government’s Opening Doors campaign, to encourage companies to pledge “open access” for work experience and internships placements.

A self-made man who never went to school or university, Mr Caan should have been the perfect choice to cajole big business to award work opportunities on merit and not contacts.

But shortly after he said parents should let their children “stand on their own two feet” rather than helping them into jobs, he was forced to admit taking on his own daughter as an intern and then employing her.

This morning, a tired-looking Mr Caan joined Nick Clegg and 100 teenagers on a bizarre bus tour of London to promote the initiative.

Outside the Guildhall in London, where the scheme was due to be launched, a small stage had been built in front of three London buses that were going to take the Deputy Prime Minister and Mr Caan, along with the school children, on a tour of employees who had signed up to the scheme.

But although two microphones had been placed side by side, for some reason neither man showed any inclination to stand next to the other for the television cameras.

Mr Clegg went first then and then, in what appeared to be a rather pointed departure, left the stage for Mr Caan’s appearance.

Both men then boarded the “Destination Talent” bus, with a group of teenagers from the Matthew Arnold School in Staines, for the trip to the publishers Random House.

The day did not improve. One of the pupils, Joshua Hyson, 15, told Mr Clegg that he had written to Downing Street asking about the possibility of work experience.

“What happened?” asked Mr Clegg. “I didn’t get a reply,” Joshua told him. Ouch.

To be fair to Mr Clegg (and indeed to Mr Caan) Opening Doors is one of those schemes which are easy to ridicule – but which just might make a difference.

So far 150 companies have agreed to make their internship schemes more structured and open to all. If that creates opportunities for even a few more people to see and do things that they might not otherwise have been able to, it will be worth it.

But today that message was lost by the self-inflicted attack on pushy parents – and Mr Caan was understandably not keen to talk to more reporters about it.

Despite appeals, he stalked off to hail a taxi (without apparently saying goodbye to Mr Clegg) leaving the Liberal Democrat leader to try to set the record straight.

“I don’t think it’s actually for politicians to tell parents what to do in helping their own children,” he said. “Every parent wants to do the best by their own sons and daughters.

“This is about giving people who perhaps don’t have the contacts, don’t have the support, opportunity to find places where they can work, where they can live out their dreams, where doors can be opened for them.”

A good point – so why not say that in the first place?