Nepotism? I blame the children

James Caan knows as much about social mobility as the ministers who employed him


Middle-class parents love a good guilt-off, so there has been much debate in the past week about James Caan's call for parents not to give their kids a leg up on to the career ladder. Caan turns out to be a mite hypocritical, given one of his two daughters has a job with Caan enterprises, but he is foolish to preach to the parents at all. Parents are evolutionarily conditioned to help their children whether it is morally respectable or not, so asking them not to is like asking them not to flinch instinctively when watching some wannabe entrepreneur crash and burn on Dragons' Den. Instead, we should address the children.

Children of parents with cool jobs, could you maybe find it in yourselves just not to glide lazily into the same career that your mums or dads have carved out? Could you consider having a little imagination and doing something different all by yourselves? Just imagine how it will feel to spend your working life wondering if you achieved your brilliant position through your own talent and application or because Daddy had a word. It will feel pathetic, that's how.

Mr Caan is also talking about only a very specific sector of the middle classes. Most middle-class parents don't find their children mini-me jobs as town planners, or probation officers, or in the IT department at British Gas, or whatever it is that they do themselves to make a living. Most middle-class parents didn't happen to go to prep school with someone who runs a major chambers or bank.

The middle class is wider than just the media, political and business classes in which middle-class children tend to want to get jobs. You'd expect the Government's new Social Mobility Tsar to know that. Or maybe he knows about as much about social mobility as the people who employed him.

Top tipple

It has been pilloried all week as a horrid, sticky, quintessentially girlie booze, but the only people I know who drink Baileys are men. So perhaps as the new sponsor of the Women's Prize for Fiction it will succeed in bringing brilliant writing by women to more male readers. Introducing a wider audience to great fiction seems an unobjectionable endeavour, whomever the fiction is written by. But having been a student at an all-women's college at Cambridge, I can only support the existence of a Women's Prize.

New Hall, now Murray Edwards College, maintains quite reasonably that it will debate its all-female status as soon as the University of Cambridge as a whole has as many women students as men. Perhaps when the male-female ratio of book reviews becomes a bit more equal than the current 75/25, the Women's Prize should consider its usefulness, too. Until then, bring on the Baileys.

Reading rights

Like the new Children's Laureate, Malorie Blackman, as a child I read "anything and everything I could get my hands on", and like her that meant that I relied on my local library. The Government doesn't get this – like it doesn't get that some people's dads can't fix them up with jobs in finance – but most parents can't afford to buy tons of books for their kids. Never mind a university education: developing a love of reading is a basic right that should be taken for granted by everyone in this country. I'm with Malorie: save our libraries.

Chemical haze

It is usually snake-oil salesmen and moisturiser commercials that abuse cod-scientific terms to baffle the consumer, but last week, disappointingly, language more typical of a wrinkle-cream advert was thrown around by the medical community itself. The terminology peppered discussion of a new report from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), which warns pregnant women to reduce their exposure to "chemicals".

The report reveals that there are "potential but unproven" risks from non-stick pans, cosmetics, cleaning products and other things, and "recommends … a 'safety first' approach, which is to assume there is risk present even when it may be minimal or eventually unfounded". RCOG's website throws in additional pointless advice such as "avoiding" some things, "minimising" others and only taking over-the-counter medicines "when necessary" (as opposed to "just for fun"?)

I'm sure the body has baby's best interests at heart, but the combination of scientific language and vagueness is dangerously unhelpful, and only plays into the hands of the types of hippies who say that "chemicals" will kill you and only "natural" ingredients should ever be used. The world is thick with chemical compounds, while "natural" ingredients include arsenic and crude oil, and everything has a "potential but unproven" risk until a risk is proven or otherwise. In the absence of rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific testing, there remains a potential but unproven risk that sticking two fingers up to interfering medical research papers could turn your hair blue. I'm doing it anyway.

In-car crime

Old men in flat caps have been up in arms about the news that middle-lane hoggers are to be fined. Perhaps they should dig out their 1927 copies of The Highway Code and recap on the meaning of "overtaking". But the crackdown on antisocial drivers doesn't go far enough. Let's hammer non-indicators, fag-ash-tippers, yellow-box squatters, cycle-lane squashers and people who block the entire nearside lane of traffic when turning right on to a main road. Also, the people who stop on that double-red line with their hazards on while popping into KFC in Staines, and the man who drives down the pavement in Kew forcing pedestrians out of his way so that he can park closer to the shops. I know who you are, and you're on my list.

Janet Street-Porter is away

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