Belfast Telegraph

These celeb experts are no substitute for government

By Tom Moseley

There are plenty of celebrities on our screens at Christmas. And last week we were treated to one more, as Mary Portas, TV's Queen of Shops, unveiled her masterplan to save our ailing High Streets. In doing so, she became the latest example of what, for many people, is the worst kind of headline-chasing government.

Unlike some of the other 'tsars' we've seen in the past 15 years, it's not that she wasn't qualified for the job. Portas transformed the department store Harvey Nichols and describes herself as "probably the UK's foremost authority on retail and brand communication".

But that's not why David Cameron selected her for this task back in May; he chose her because she's famous.

A faceless professor could have come up with an equally incisive study. But then, there would have been no photos of the PM and Ms Portas, chatting away in a High Street cafe, splashed over every national newspaper.

The recommendations themselves don't even matter too much, as long as the headlines are right. For the record, it's going to take more than a 'town team' of council officials (which already exist in many areas), a National Market Day and lighter planning rules to reverse a step-change in people's shopping habits.

All this follows Countdown's Carol Vorderman, whose third-class degree in engineering and endorsement of debt-management solutions persuaded Michael Gove that she, rather than say, a maths teacher, was best placed to review maths teaching.

In August, she came to the remarkable conclusion more students should study maths. Carol did the rounds of the TV studios, but there's been little heard of her proposals since - and no sign of the millions that would be needed to pay for the extra teachers.

Another of the Tories' celeb pals, Location, Location Location's Kirstie Allsop, advised on housing. This pandering to celebrity culture started under Labour and went well beyond Noel Gallagher's invitation to Number 10. The last government spent £280m improving school canteens after Jamie Oliver's crusade.

Labour also found room in the House of Lords for Baron Sugar of Clapton, better known as trigger-happy Apprentice star Alan.

Of course when a household name speaks, people listen - even just for one day. But it's hard to imagine the Vorderman review being referred to in 20 years as the moment maths teaching was reborn, or the Portas report as a seminal study that killed the out-of-town shopping centre.

Without more tangible results, it's hard to see them as anything other than an ego trip - for the celebrities and the Government.

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