Editor-At-Large: Kids... sit up, scrub up and buckle down



There's an easy way to tell when a government is deep in the brown stuff: every day it makes self-important statements designed to divert attention from a catastrophic loss of direction.

Last week, David Cameron said children should stand up when their parents or teachers entered a room and advocated the return of "real discipline". Some of us might think "real discipline" means telling the truth about what you earn, what you own and what tax you pay, but that's another matter. The day before, the Employment minister Chris Grayling's spin-doctors ensured he grabbed headlines when he announced that "very often the surly young man in a hoodie who turns up looking unwilling to work can turn into an excited, motivated employee". In other words, hire a hoodie. Mr Grayling is presiding over a crisis: over a million young people are unemployed, as well as a record number of women. At the same time, 166,000 jobs last year were lost by UK citizens – and taken by people born outside this country. He can't tell employers to favour Brits, because that would be racist. So he's telling them to give unskilled, illiterate, socially gauche British youngsters a chance. How many does he employ in his office? None, of course – he's in the rarefied world of Westminster.

It's so cynical. Grayling knows that employers and the CBI have been saying for many months that kids are leaving school and even university without the basics essential to landing jobs. Qualifications count for nought if your social skills and attitude are on another waveband. Yes, schools need to get increased funding to reduce the 20 per cent who are illiterate at 16. Yes, the curriculum needs to be dramatically refocused to emphasise practical skills from the age of 12 for kids who will be brilliant builders, plumbers and electricians (like my dad). Can everyone in government please stop banging on about the need for further education and university? We need schools that equip all young people with what they need to get on in life and make the best of themselves, not shunt them on to useless colleges to learn media skills or pointless degrees in physical training.

Young people need to be shown what it takes to land a job: a sense of structure in your day (so you can turn up on time), a lot of repetition (most work is boring), and presentability (i.e. washing, and wearing clean clothes). Jamie Oliver, and now Mary Portas, have shown the scale of the problem in their TV series, trying to give these kids a chance. Now, the Government needs to stop mouthing platitudes and return to square one, turning primary schools into places where people learn to sit up, shut up and learn, not express their individuality. As a society we are unspeakably brutal and offensive to each other on a daily basis, so why do we expect young people to be different, whether hoodie-wearers or not? The other day I went for a hospital appointment to be greeted by a loud-mouthed cow bellowing "Date of birth?" at full volume as a way of identifying me, even though I offered my postcode and driving licence. A Care Quality Commission report on Leeds General Infirmary revealed that the commission inspectors were repeatedly forced to help distressed patients, since hospital staff couldn't be bothered.

If we ignore the sick, why are we surprised young people can't be arsed to be pleasant or grateful if they are lucky enough to land a job interview?

Wrong direction

I'm not going to bother listening to Capital any more as it seems to have a particularly petty set of values lurking behind all the faux bonhomie the radio presenters spout. Young people are frequently vilified for their lack of manners, but Global Radio, which owns Capital, has behaved disgracefully, banning top boy band One Direction because, back in February, one of the band members made a simple mistake during the Brit Awards and thanked Radio 1, not Capital (the sponsors) for their Best Single award, voted for by the station's listeners.

According to Radio Today, next day the station banned all mention of One Direction, refuses to play their music and will not mention their tour, set to be a co-promotion, even though the band issued an apology for the error. By the way, The Wanted, One Direction's main rivals, are managed by an artist management company that is owned by Global.

Joan Sutherland changed my life

The new season of Proms has been unveiled, and the concerts will celebrate the Diamond Jubilee as well as the Olympics. Am I the only musical snob who groaned? Why must the Proms have "themes"? What happened to assembling brilliant concerts with the best performers? Now, this wonderful event is all about branding.

I adore the Proms, and attended my first concert on a Saturday morning as a schoolgirl back in the 1950s. Joan Sutherland sang the mad scene from Lucia di Lammermoor; I still treasure my programme.

Now, concerts for young audiences seem dumbed down. How grim were the last two years' Doctor Who and Horrible Histories events? This year, the children's prom will feature a specially commissioned piece from Wallace of Wallace & Gromit, entitled My Concerto in Eee, Lad.

The chef Antonio Carluccio says that kids' menus in restaurants are rubbish because they feature muck, when children should be tempted by adult food. It's the same with music. Dame Joan did me a favour: I've been addicted to opera ever since.

Spare me this Olympian Cyclops

Sadly, last Friday saw the end of Twenty Twelve, which followed a fictitious Olympic delivery team headed by the supremely pompous Ian Fletcher, played by Hugh Bonneville. Spouting politically correct jargon, hapless twits lurched from one crisis to another while stabbing each other in the back.

Twenty Twelve, like The Thick of It, was spookily accurate, so why did the Beeb castrate the show in its prime, but then promise a new series "later in the year"? Too scared of getting its quota of free tickets for the big event reduced?

On Wednesday, Seb Coe celebrated the 100-day countdown to the London Olympics by "unveiling" the official motto in Kew Gardens. Embarrassed school kids looked on while repugnant one-eyed Olympic mascots danced around in their nylon suits. McDonald's, the official sponsors, scored another publicity coup, announcing free exercise toys with their Happy Meals, which, as they generally consist of burgers and chips, aren't exactly the healthy option for future medal winners.

I'm a big fan of exercise aids, but using stepometers and exercise balls after shovelling down helpings of fast food is nonsense. And what does the public make of Lord Coe's entreaties to get on-message? While he was at Kew, I spotted this forlorn mascot at Peter Jones in Chelsea, next to a display of hideous Olympic memorabilia. Customers were making a detour – Peter Jones is a haven of middle-class taste – and I don't foresee many takers for one-eyed mascots.

Apart from anything, the model could really scare small children.

Cure for boredom

Simon Cowell's sexuality is of no interest to me. I'm more concerned about his black toilet paper. Cowell is thinking of writing his autobiography to "correct" bizarre revelations in Tom Bower's book, which went on sale last Friday, but he should never have let Mr Bower use his guest loo – the contents of one's bathroom are so revealing.

Once I was invited to a particularly boring dinner party, so I went to the bathroom and put all the contents of the pill cabinet in different bottles. Perfect revenge!

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn