I can't think of any job tougher than being a parent in modern Britain, and I've edited this newspaper, walked the length of Britain, climbed Kilimanjaro and regularly mouth off on live television. Parents are our unsung heroes, but you'd never guess. Week in and week out they get criticised – told they're not as good as previous generations.
Too many young people are obese: it must be mum's fault they stuff their faces with junk food, and why don't parents force their couch-potato teenagers to exercise? Little girls want to wear make-up and sexy clothes: it must be parents' fault for letting them watch Rihanna on television. Kids carrying knives: why doesn't mum strip-search her son every time he heads out of the door and monitor what he's looking at on Facebook? Why are hundreds of thousands of young people leaving school illiterate and almost a million jobless with no qualifications? Obviously that's because lazy parents haven't chained their offspring to the kitchen table and forced them to do homework.
Parents are routinely derided as failing in their responsibilities by politicians and found wanting by social commentators. You might think everything that's wrong with modern Britain can be traced back to one job – lousy parenting. David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove love making self-important speeches demanding parents take control, impose stricter discipline, dish up healthy food and monitor their children's every spare minute. Blaming parents costs absolutely nothing and allows policymakers to pass the buck without the nuisance of having to spend money on increasing the number of teachers, or investing in creating places for young people to let off steam in the evenings, or introducing something as radical as the return of National Service to deal with youth unemployment.
Now maligned parents are cited as the reason many kids drink to excess. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has carried out the first survey into drinking behaviour among 13- to 16- year-olds. Guess what? If kids hang out with their pals night after night they are more likely to drink. If kids see mum and dad drunk at home, then they are more likely to drink to excess themselves. If parents don't know where their children are on a Saturday night, or allow them to watch 18- rated movies unsupervised, then they are more likely to drink. Nothing new.
The implication is that children mimic mum and dad's behaviour. So, if you drink too much in front of the kids, they are more likely to get drunk. Half of the 16-year-olds surveyed had been drunk. A worrying number of kids do drink too much. But the vast majority drink exactly as I did at their age, except that, back then, you had to go to an off-licence to buy alcohol – an enormous deterrent.
The simple reason why many kids drink today is because drink is everywhere: go for a choc bar, and drink is on sale with newspapers and milk. It is still sold below cost in supermarkets. As the cost of food rises faster than inflation, you can see why a family on a small budget might stockpile booze sold in promotions. There's no conclusive evidence that offering the odd drink to younger children turns them into boozers.
The real villain in this story is not boozy parenting but flabby government, still far too chummy with the major alcohol manufacturers. You've got to laugh when Diageo is the expert the Government chose to provide advice to young women about drinking during pregnancy. The Government should impose a strict price per unit of alcohol, a move demanded by every important medical body in the UK. And it should insist booze is sold only at specified times in special shops where picture ID is required.
Moaning about the sexualisation of young people is another example of passing the buck. The last government commissioned three reports on this very subject, and we've just had another written by Reg Bailey of the Mothers' Union. You can see gays in bed on EastEnders and lesbians snogging in Corrie. What does mum say to a toddler who hasn't gone to bed? As for Rihanna and the pervy costumes: she was plugging a record and exploiting a lack of control. Why can't Ofcom police the watershed?
Stop telling parents to shape up when our elected leaders and official regulators are completely lacking in moral fibre themselves.
Is that Nancy Dell'Olio, or the latest drag star?
The other night I got a glimpse of the phenomenon known as Nancy Dell'Olio at close quarters. The Terrence Higgins Trust held its annual fundraising gala in the auspicious surroundings of the Law Courts, and Nancy arrived late, wearing a skin-tight black frock with her hair arranged into a complicated waterfall. I was reminded of how Pavarotti used to dye his hair, eyebrows and beard a ludicrous black. Nancy is just as comical – maybe they are distantly related?
Anyway, she managed to talk to her fellow guests all the way through the fundraising speeches from the platform, and then disappeared to the ladies' for a lengthy period. Maybe she was adjusting her hair.
I can see why gays might be pleased she pitched up to add her special glamour – a new Lily Savage, she's bound to be versioned by a transvestite any day now. Earlier in the week, they had been out in force at Boy George's birthday where Leigh Bowery came back to life in all shapes and sizes. I have no idea what Nancy does for a living – but perhaps she could judge drag contests.
Heard the one about the gaffe?
Telling a joke is risky. Peek online at the hapless Australian television presenter who tried to put the Dalai Lama at ease by asking him if he had heard the story about the Dalai Lama who went into a pizza parlour and asked, "Can you make me one with everything?" I didn't get it either. One of Boris Johnson's aides did no better, telling an interviewer that whenever he bought his lunch from a big chain, he stole something. He justified this by claiming that places like Starbucks were ruining high streets and killing off small businesses. Tom Campbell, who earned £45,000 a year advising the Mayor on his cultural strategy, claimed his remarks were "lighthearted" and "taken out of context" – and has resigned. Boris clearly didn't see the joke.
The best architecture matures
The 1980s Broadgate development in the City of London is a striking example of a commercial development with brilliantly integrated artworks and successful public spaces, including an ice rink in winter and attractive outdoor dining areas in summer. The huge Richard Serra sculpture just behind Liverpool Street station is wonderful. A row has erupted because English Heritage wanted the Culture Secretary to list the estate and stop part of it being demolished to build a new bank, and he has refused. English Heritage and the Twentieth Century Society reckoned that Broadgate is an important example of Eighties architecture and should be preserved. Wrong. Broadgate is stylish, but not iconic. The City of London must be allowed to evolve and reinvent itself.