Harriet Walker : Scouts will never be cool but they could save us from ourselves



Some things in life you can set your watch by, and others happen with a certain irregular regularity that rocks us gently through our workaday existences: general elections, royal weddings, outrageous new words in the OED, and – my favourite - the modernising of the Girl Scouts. The foundation's latest hilarious makeover announced this week includes the introduction of new badges in financial literacy, website design and locavore awareness (learning about locally grown produce). These badges alone would render any eight-year-old girl more qualified than me and, I'd wager, anyone else over the age of 25, to be alive. I presumed a locavore was someone who ate their neighbours.

So perhaps it's only fair to cut the Scouts some slack. Granted, it isn't the most streetwise way to spend your teenage years, but it might actually do you some good given the unremittingly bleak predictions for the next fifty years. It's cheaper than university, and you might end up more employable. And they seem to have cut back on the excruciating dib dib, dob dobbing elements too.

Whoever it was within the organisation that realised youths more au fait with online porn and rioting were unlikely to submit to a woggle was a genius of even greater stature than designer Jeff Banks, who put the little tykes in hoodies back in the Nineties.

I have a debilitating allergy to the sort of Enid Blyton pap evoked by promising to do one's duty to God and the Queen, but the fundamental principles of scouting remain relevant – that is, to make children and youngsters useful. We need more than ever some kind of efficient community project, with which to engage the fast-talking, perennially texting, light-the-fuse-and-stand-well-back youngsters that have been disenfranchised by such government decisions as cutting Educational Maintenance Allowance.

You can't press-gang teenagers into doing something worthwhile – the entire evolutionary point of the adolescent is to act as a thorn in the side of society – but you can try and tempt them into it. Financial literacy, website design and locavorism might not be as exciting as trainers, guns and bling, but they do have a whiff of urbanity to them that the Scouts have for so long lacked. And it could help the rest of us as much as the kids involved.

Forget selling cookies for charity – some day soon we'll be able to get the Scouts to do our tax returns and arrange our mortgages.


Everyone dreads the pronouncements of TV fashion gurus, but pity the female cabinet ministers who had their style slammed this week by proverbial Queen of Shops and all-round retail regina Mary Portas. She called them an "ugly bunch" and compared their sartorial tastes unfavourably with their better-dressed European counterparts. It's tricky terrain to negotiate because, while the honourable members in question are doing jobs that require absolutely no fashion credentials whatsoever (and their male colleagues don't come in for such regular sartorial wallopings), there is no convincing counter-argument to the claim that Theresa May, Baroness Warsi and Caroline Spelman have little or no taste when it comes to clothes.

It comes down to this, I suppose: you don't mock someone you think is doing a good job. If May spent less time making up stories about cats, perhaps we'd be more disposed to overlook her Star Trek tailoring and geometric print blanket coat.

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