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Home / Latest News / From Carol Vorderman to James Caan

From Carol Vorderman to James Caan

There was a time when a Tsar was just a Russian chap with a beard who lived in a palace and looked nervously out the window at the revolting peasants. But now you can have Tsars for everything – from sport to breastfeeding.

Politicians who appoint them evidently think the word “expert” or “consultant” is just too boring, especially as the fashion is to stick a big, headline-grabbing name on a mission to sort out problems they really should be solving themselves.

Thus David Cameron appointed Carol Vorderman as Maths Tsar a couple of years ago. Crunching the alarming numbers of Britain’s innumerate youth, he calculated that someone who was a whiz at that tricky bit of mental arithmetic on Countdown was just the ticket.

Mary Portas got the High Street Tsar gig. Presumably the hope was that Portas, would stride into town centres across Britain and give the nation’s crumbling retail economy a kick up the backside with her dominatrix boots and in-depth knowledge of fabulous window displays.

Divided between 100 councils, her budget to rescue the High Street was £10m – about the size of a rollover lottery win. Perhaps they should have got Carol Vorderman to do the maths.

Even with that paltry amount assigned to preventing the death of British retail, it turns out towns have spent just 7% of the High Street Innovation Fund while 47 of the 100 councils haven’t even touched the money. Though Dartford council did apparently splash out on hiring a person in a Peppa Pig costume.

Not entrepreneurial enough? Call in Alan Sugar, Enterprise Tsar. Now I’m sure the Lord knows his stuff on the business front – notwithstanding the hilarious failure of the Amstrad Email phone, a gadget only ever used by the mysterious PA in The Apprentice. It does come in very useful, however, when she has to impart the momentous message: “Lord Sugar will see you now.”

But how could Lord Sugar ever revolutionise the entrepreneurial culture of Britain when he has enough trouble getting boys from Cardiff with funny eyebrows to meet their sales targets?

Loyd Grossman was entrusted with the role of Hospital Food Tsar. I’m saying nothing on this apart from the most spectacular stomach upset I ever had involved a jar of Tomato and Chilli Sauce. So if I’m ever unfortunate enough to end up in The Heath in the near future please put the notice: Nil Pasta Sauce By Mouth on the bottom of my bed.

Have you noticed a trend emerging? Do the Government trawl every possible source of academic, technological and corporate expertise before they appoint the very best person to spearhead their trouble-shooting campaigns? Or do they just watch a bit of telly?

Whatever the answer, they might like to revise their celebrity Tsar recruitment drive after their latest appointment backfired so dramatically. Now I can understand why a cabinet full of Old Etonians might like to be seen to be concerned about the evils of nepotism. So surely putting a Social Mobility Tsar in place was a Good Thing.

Nick Clegg was due to unveil an initiative aimed at persuading Britain’s leading companies to take on more people from lower-income background. On the surface Dragons’ Den judge James Caan fitted the bill as the face of the campaign. A self-made millionaire who was born in Pakistan, the entrepreneur called for well-connected parents to let “the child stand on his own two feet.”

His vision of a meritocratic Utopia was further outlined in a newspaper interview in which he maintained parents should hold off seeking work placements for their offspring and allow them to find their own way in life for at least a year.

To those under constant bombardment from middle-class Hover Mams asking us to help get their offspring a job in the media this was not so much music to our ears as an entire symphonic suite. I am practically a one-woman Journalism Careers Advice Service. Trouble is they don’t seem to listen when I say: “Tell them to do law, there’s no money in papers and kids want to work on them though they never even read them.”

And why is Making the Tea called an “internship” these days? Anyway, I digress. The Dragon also breathed fire to criticise a recent auction held by top public school Westminster of internships at blue-chip companies, saying it reinforced bastions of privilege in the professions dominated by the privately-educated.

“You are trying to develop your child too,” he mused. “You don’t want them to feel as though they don’t have to make the effort.”

So far, so Tsar that might actually make a difference. And then it emerged the social mobility guru who says kids should make it alone is actually employing one of his own daughters. After a little press probing, Caan admitted his own daughters Jemma and Hanah are involved in his businesses.

Hanah Caan’s Twitter feed revealed she is not so much well-connected as socially stratospheric. Describing herself as “sort of like Maggie Thatcher meets Paris Hilton” a typical tweet went something like this: “Back in the office after a trip to Dubai. Am refreshed and raring to go! Sat next to the Deputy Prime Minister this morning and saw the Queen!”

But don’t worry. James Caan insisted his daughters underwent a “rigorous recruitment process.”

But this only serves to underline the dangers of playing the fame game in politics. Appointing a big name provides instant PR but a personality soon attracts headlines of a different kind when their quick-fix solutions backfire.

The Russian royals knew when their time was up. It looks as if the moment is here to revolt against the celebrity tsars too.

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