Sue Arnold: What's wrong with a little nepotism?

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The Independent Online

It's called networking. It used to be called nepotism but that's old fashioned like dropping bombs on people. No one drops bombs anymore, they inflict collateral damage. Chamber's Dictionary will tell you exactly when networking replaced nepotism as a recognised and perfectly acceptable social practice but I became aware of it only a couple of years ago when one of my student daughters consulting her university appointments office about career possibilities, was advised to go home and network her parents.

So there, it's official and I can understand why that wealthy banker Philip Keevil is so miffed because his son has just failed to get a place at Trinity College, Oxford. The £100,000 he personally donated to the Trinity College kitty wasn't to buy his boy a place, it was honest to goodness networking. I imagine it went to something like this

"Dad, I've been thinking. I'd quite like to go to Oxford. Do you know anybody who might be able to help?"

"Well lad, let's see now. Your mother if I remember correctly goes to yoga on Tuesday's with the sister of the admissions tutor from Christ Church and didn't that fellow who came to fix the boiler last week say he'd just rewired Brasenose?"

"Well actually dad I was rather hoping to go to Trinity College."

"Trinity College eh? Well in that case I might be able to do something for you seeing as I was there myself."

"At Trinity College. Were you really? Gosh dad you never told me."

"You never asked."

"So do you know anyone who could get me in?"

"As a matter of fact I think I do, there's a fellow called Beloff I wrote a cheque out for £100,000 only the other day..."

All parents want to do the best for their children. Remember Mayor Daly of Chicago in the 70s. He fixed it that all the city's insurance policies went through his son's office and when someone suggested there might be a bit of corruption there – young master Daly was collecting millions of dollars in premiums – all his old man said was: "If a father can't do something to help his son, what kind of a father is he anyway?"

It's natural for parents to want to help their kids, whether it's getting them a place at Oxford or two weeks as a snow fairy in a pantomime at Worthing. That's all I wanted when I left stage school but alas I didn't have the connections and my Burmese mother wouldn't have recognised a network if it landed in her lap.

If I had wanted to breed saddle-back pigs or raise deep-litter chickens she might have been able to help – my stepfather had recently bought a smallholding in Hampshire. But I didn't. I wanted to be a snowflake and the next best thing to having a famous name like Hayley Mills, who was in the class below me, was to have someone you could stay with in Worthing while the pantomime lasted. I had neither so I never got to be a snowflake which in retrospect may have been a good thing.

I hope young Master Keevil will be as philosophical about his failure. Hard as it may be to believe there is life beyond Oxford. A clever young woman I know turned down her place at Balliol College in favour of reading law at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London because she wanted to study Chinese medicine on the side. I don't suppose you can do that at Trinity.

When the clever young woman graduated she applied for a fancy job with a prestigious law firm in Tokyo and much to her surprise beat all the other Oxbridge candidates to get it. They said she sounded more interesting.

So, you wonder, did we help our networking daughter? No because she wants to go into film production and apart from the fact that I used to change Guy Ritchie's nappies I don't know a single soul in films. This makes me feel guilty. Remember Cherie Blair getting the Ministry of Defence to do Euan's homework? I tried that, we had the philosopher Roger Scruton for supper once and persuaded him to write my daughter's A level philosophy essay. She got a D.

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