Deborah Orr: Want to see rude, nasty people? Watch the British upper classes in action

Click to follow
The Independent Online

My goodness, the similarities between Blair and Cameron really are uncanny. Blair, for example, has spent many years in power talking about radical change but preferring to shelve such eventualities by commissioning lengthy reports on What Need to Be Done instead. Now Cameron's at it. Instead of letting his adoring public in on the little secret that is "What I Plan to Do to You", he has already commissioned six new sets of policy studies, the first among them undertaken by the Social Justice Policy group.

You'd imagine that a man wishing to do away with "Punch and Judy" politics would find the research carried out at great expense over eight years at the social exclusion unit to be enough to be going on with for now. But perhaps he is again taking his lead for Blair, since the once enthusiastic PM has not let the words "social exclusion" cross his lips for years.

Instead, Blair bangs on about "the Respect Agenda" and so does Cameron. Launching his policy unit at a charity-run school for deprived black boys, Cameron signalled his support for specialist education for children with problems. I'm in favour of that. But I'm not in favour of signing up to the mistaken idea that "lack of respect" is a problem only among the poor and the ignorant.

Rather than funding research, Blair and Cameron would both do well instead to hang around incognito when London's Princess Diana memorial playground closes at dusk. I was there with my children on Saturday, and was amazed by the level of abuse and and arrogance on display there. One upper-class father, on being told that he could not bring his daughters in, began shouting insults at the young Afro-Caribbean council workers who had politely - almost pleadingly - asked him to comply with the rules.

"You sour, twisted old bitch," he boomed. "You nasty power-crazed creature." When I asked him to stop hurling insults at public employees doing their jobs, he started on me. "It's none of your business, you hard-faced shrew. If you had children of your own, you'd understand our concerns, you shrivelled-up old cow."

Minutes after that lot had marched off, another family arrived, similarly affluent and posh-sounding, similarly furious that the rules should apply even to them. They too raved and shouted at these women working on a Saturday afternoon, almost certainly for a modest wage, to provide a safe and joyful environment for children, unmarred by litter, broken equipment, lurking older children smoking fags, or the other usual playground blights.

Nevertheless, both these sets of nightmare parents insisted that they had only the best interests of their children at heart. Unless there are a lot of vampire families in Kensington, who can't go outside in daylight, I suggest that they're just spoilt, overprivileged loudmouths, who think the rest of the world exists to please them. I bet they used to vote Blair, and can't wait to vote Cameron.

Death Row dilemma

Stanley "Tookie" Williams founded the Crips, the notorious Los Angeles street gang, when he was 17. In 1979 was found guilty of several brutal murders. Until the 1990s, when he was sentenced to six years of solitary confinement, he continued to run his nihilistic organisation from behind bars.

During a six-year solitary confinement, though, he claimed to have changed. His campaigns since then against street-gang culture have been powerful and successful. This, argue liberal campaigners in the US, means that he should be granted clemency, saving him from death by lethal injection on Monday.

Actually, Williams is not a candidate for clemency at all. He has never admitted his crimes, let alone expressed contrition for them. He says he was framed by the police. Even if he was, it's hard to imagine that a young man would have kept an iron grip on such a violent gang without ever having taken a life himself.

Williams admits no such thing, and maintains that as a deprived child in the ghetto, he did what his environment dictated. In other words, he excuses himself. Williams should not die on Monday, but not because he has "changed". He should not be killed because one should never take the life of another person.

Public-service reality TV - it can happen

I've been glued these past weeks to a strange BBC1 programme called Honey We're Killing the Kids. Featuring a hapless family of fat-saturated couch potatoes, it subjects the children to a series of health tests, then uses the data to create a computer model of what they'll look like at 40 and the age they'll be when they die. The parents are shown this data in a large white room with a huge screen, and watch as their children morph before there eyes into what is always their own rough-looking parents, but even worse. Usually the children have developed, as well as ghastly complexions, huge dark circles and cassowary jowls, weird contorted mouths, reminiscent of the village idiot in Hammer horror films. They are always scheduled to die a good 15 years before the average life expectancy. Essentially, the children have grown up to look desperately poor, even though the families tend not to to be from the bottom of the societal heap.

When the poor parents have digested the horror of their children's future, the presenter jauntily says: "You're killing them!" Then the show turns into straightforward reality, as they spend three weeks changing their diet, getting out of the house, doing some exercise and generally reshaping the group dynamic. The problem is always basically bad diet and too much telly. It's surprising how well the kids respond when they are confronted with change. Usually, after this, they all live happily ever after. I'm praying for Trinny and Susannah-style follow-ups. If they come up trumps, this show is truly performing a public service.

* Gordon Brown is left working out how to fund the compassionate conservatism so admired by everyone but him. Even though there are murmurs that he has lost his touch, I think he's still running a good scam. OK, so his big idea from the last Budget was thwarted - the one where he breathes new life into house price inflation, by offering big tax breaks for new second homes (ie by giving extra cash to rich people). But he came up with a new wheeze that is a bit more compatible with his politics anyway.

The Government is going to put its full weight behind shared equity schemes, so that new first-time buyers can be created. As long as the building of the millions of new homes we've been promised by the Government continue to be delayed by controversy, then we can all start borrowing against our overvalued houses and a new boom will be in evidence by the time of the next election.

Brilliant, especially now we've established that the socially excluded have only themselves to blame, and living with your family in a hostel is just Bad Parenting, and nothing to do with a pitiful lack of social housing.