Knife crime on the increase, binge drinking out of control, teenage abortions rising every year – is there ever any good news about the young? If the Government's justice expert Louise Casey had her way, young offenders would be doing community work wearing fluorescent vests so we can give them a wide berth. What's wrong with black marks on their foreheads or a compulsory short back and sides?
The Government deals with anti-social behaviour among young people by passing more and more laws – thereby increasing the size of the prison population and the number of people with criminal records. But you don't alter notions of what is acceptable behaviour without starting at primary school, which is why more and more girls, scarcely out of puberty, are having unprotected sex and getting pregnant. Providing sex education to secondary school pupils is far too late.
Figures published last week show the number of abortions performed on girls aged under 14 has risen by 21 per cent, with a 10 per cent increase for those under 16. In all, 4,376 girls under the age of legal consent underwent abortions in 2007.
Yet, in spite of all this apparent evidence that Britain has a "lost" generation of badly behaved teenagers, I still feel 100 per cent optimistic about our young. For every kid puking outside Tesco on a Friday night after over-indulging on alcopops or cheap beer, there will be hundreds who don't drink, do their homework, play a musical instrument and who want to have a fulfilling life. It's not kids we should be demonising, but their lacklustre parents. Give them Asbos and community service!
Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, asks how to deal with the stroppy parents who march into school demanding that their children be removed from detention. I can tell him exactly what is needed – detention for the parents. It's not the kids' fault when they turn up at school in the wrong clothes, without having had any breakfast and suffering from sleep deprivation because someone was playing music loudly and partying downstairs.
But is a subtle change under way? Some kids are fighting back against their pathetic parents – last week, Tracey Cox appeared in court on a drink-drive charge, after her twin daughters, Emma and Helen, called the police when they saw her get into her car after partying all night and then coming home to drink another bottle of wine. The radical way to deal with anti-social behaviour isn't by dishing out bright orange vests, but by encouraging children to shop their errant parents. Compulsory evening classes in how to run a home, manage a budget, cook and raise children – now that's justice.
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I'd rather look at Lord Snowdon's any day
Is Annie Leibovitz the most overrated photographer? A huge hype surrounds her forthcoming exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, but all she's ever done is make overpaid, self-centred, famous people look more important than they really are. Demi Moore, naked and pregnant; Whoopi Goldberg in a bath full of milk; Arnold Schwarzenegger on a white horse smoking a big cigar. Annie, below, spends hours setting up complicated shots, such as this stagey portrait of Nicole Kidman, but the end result has all the psychological content of a cottonwool bud. Leibovitz is perfect for the big monthly mags – all surface gloss. Lord Snowdon's portraits are far more revealing.
Obama vs McCain: now it's cookie recipes at dawn
Depressingly, the US presidential election won't hinge on the policies of the candidates, but on how good their spouses are at cooking and appearing on daytime TV.
Hillary Clinton had her faults, but she offered a glimmer of hope that one day women will make it to the very top in politics. Now she's out of the running, the men are back in charge and women relegated to handmaidens. Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama are under intense scrutiny – Michelle has now appeared on ABC's The View with actress Whoopi Goldberg and veteran broadcaster Barbara Walters. She smiled and defused the controversy over that fist-pump she gave her victorious husband by confessing that she wasn't "that hip". These faux-cosy chats make my flesh creep. Meanwhile, Cindy has been accused of cheating. Family Circle magazine always asks partners of presidential candidates for their favourite recipe. She claimed her cookie recipe came from a "family friend", although it's almost identical to one from a confectionery company. Who believes super-chic Cindy cooks anyway?
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How to offend an Aussie
Gordon Ramsay has achieved the impossible – not by gaining another Michelin star, but by offending Australians. Who'd have thought the country that gave us mind-numbing contortions of the English language – tinnies, sickies, barbies, and rug muncher – would find Gordon's free-range use of the F-word so unacceptable that politicians are demanding strong warnings be broadcast before TV programmes such as Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares as they glorify bad manners, making crude behaviour acceptable?