The Conservative MP Esther McVey received a lot of stick for daring to state the obvious – that if young people want a job, they must be prepared to start at the bottom and work for the minimum wage. Esther picked out the Costa Coffee chain as an example, saying “in a couple of years’ time you might say ‘I’d like to manage the area’.”
In spite of unemployment dropping, the number of under-24s out of work remains stuck at around a million; clearly there is a problem. Is it one of attitude or aptitude, or a combination of both? IoS political editor Jane Merrick, writing in The Independent, on Wednesday, said families with children are worse off than they were in 2010, no matter what David Cameron may say. She pointed out that 1,700 people applied for eight jobs at Costa in Nottingham last year, so implying that young people are lazy or have the wrong attitude is over-simplifying the situation. In the poorest areas of the country, any kind of a job is at a premium.
I hate to disagree, but many school-leavers don’t have a grasp of what work entails. Apart from not possessing adequate grades in maths and English, they have few social skills and no concept of service. Work, when you start out, is boring, repetitive, and badly paid. Too many kids fancy “being famous” like the cast of Towie or Made in Chelsea, or want a stab at stardom on a telly talent show.
I encounter this daily. Opening a recycling plant in the North-east last week, I was handed a piece of paper, written by an eight-year-old, who wrote “when I grow up I want to be famous like you”. Charming, but wrong-headed. At 12, I wanted to be successful; fame didn’t come into it. What a long journey we’ve had in the past 50 years – now kids believe success is linked to recognition – they don’t factor in the servile years, the studying years to achieve your goal. They want a quick fix and pots of dosh.
I’ve got time for Esther McVey, regardless of her politics; she worked for me as a trainee. Launching cable channel L!ve TV in 1995, I employed Esther, Julia Bradbury and Claudia Winkleman (above), all on very little money, as budding reporters. They would do anything from making the tea to tidying the office, working long hours filming and editing – and their resourcefulness and intelligence has led them all to great success.
Esther swapped television to start again at the bottom, in politics. I worked making sandwiches in a supermarket, selling handbags in a department store, licking envelopes in a tax office, and as a part-time waitress to pay for my first year at college. Each job taught me a bit more and, all the time, I nurtured my dream of writing. My friend’s son is going to start his apprenticeship as an electrician in the summer. I’m delighted, but it has taken a year of cajoling to persuade him that this isn’t a dead-end dreary job, but the start of a professional career.
Our values seem so lop-sided. We must glorify trades, from plumbing to mechanics, and stop harping on about university. Esther was right; but how do you change a mindset that is so entrenched? Removing benefits for the under-24s and substituting paid work experience might be a solution.
High heels are for losers
Karl Lagerfeld is a very rum chap, in his black leather gloves and powdered hair, his liquid diet and his permanent sunglasses. He is a marketing genius, who has re-branded couture for a young clientele. Karl stole all the headlines last week with his Chanel couture show featuring jewelled trainers (right).
Historians will look back on the late 20th and early 21st century and see our revolting footwear as another version of Chinese foot binding. Five-inch heels, huge platforms, ludicrous pointy toes, all condemn women by rending them fragile and vulnerable. I loathe high heels – modern footwear should reflect our active lives, not reinforce some fantasy about the length of our legs.
We live in an age when sporting achievement brings huge fame and rewards, so it’s fitting that Karl should send out Chanel evening dresses and classic suits with studded and beaded trainers. One fashion editor sniffed “fine on models and teens, but can make the rest of us look like badly dressed American tourists”. She’s wrong – who wants to look like Barbie in 2014?
Keep the best, bury the rest
I’m not a rabid conservationist. I love streets like St James’s in London which mix every period from Georgian to modern, side by side. Nevertheless, Westminster City Council’s decision to allow developers to pull down a glorious art deco cinema in Leicester Square is wrong-headed.
The Odeon, which opened in 1930, will be replaced with a hotel, spa and cinema, and I bet the architecture will be anodyne. Leicester Square is a mess – building work and renovations almost permanently blight this giant litterbin for tourists, pigeon droppings and third-rate buskers. Even the Odeon’s façade is blighted by a giant hoarding. The developers should have restored the exterior to its previous gorgeousness, as has happened with the Mount Pleasant sorting office in Clerkenwell. Far better to use the current building as a shell and reconstruct the interior.
Take a seat
Art collector and gallery owner Dasha Zhukova has been photographed sitting on a chair made up of a black mannequin with her legs in the air (above). After accusations of racism, she apologised.
I also loathe that chair – by Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard – it’s offensive because it’s a shameless copy of work by British artist Allen Jones, in 1969. At the time, Allen’s sculptures of women as a hatstand, chair and table were reviled by feminists and attacked when on display.
Jones maintained the sculptures were witty comments, and was surprised at the venom they attracted. My former husband, Tim, collaborated with Jones to produce a book of photographs of erotic images of a waitress in bondage gear montaged into famous restaurants – highly collectible to this day. I posed for Allen Jones for a tribal painting that appeared on the cover of an art magazine.
Allen Jones is a respected artist, even if you find his subject matter controversial. His Norwegian copyist is feeble crap. By the way, Lord McAlpine, who died this month, was a mutual friend, we met through his love of contemporary art. Alistair would have laughed about the “furore” over Dasha’s horrid chair. He amassed a huge collection of British art, and once gave me a set of Joe Tilson prints. A lovely man and a great conversationalist who will be sadly missed.