Monday, 20 April 2009

Nepotism - no thanks

In yesterday's Independent on Sunday, Sarah Sands wrote a piece in defence of nepotism, with the line: "Maybe nepotism is the worst form of selection, except for all the others that have been tried," which would suggest that it is therefore the best form of selection. If you are a conservative by inclination, you will take this type of line and Sands' other line - that if you cannot be absolutely fair you may as well not bother with fairness at all.

It's an obviously shallow argument and unpicking it leads you to the idea that nepotism is indeed a relative issue. Any bias or discrimination in allocating life chances is best avoided, for reasons that are too obvious to mention, but the damage caused is proportionate to the extent to which a person's relative suitability is ignored. If you define nepotism as selecting on the basis of family without an regard for a person's ablility, it's a very bad thing.

The one thing that the well-off, well-connected and beneficiaries of nepotism are all very good at is claiming that they are the victims of a reverse descrimination. Sands (sort of) takes up the cause of Georgia Gould along these lines:
"... she is clearly a capable young woman. More people might recognise that if she could fight for the job without her parents' helicopter friends piling in."
In today's Standard, Andrew Gilligan takes this line in the opposite direction, coming out firmly against the daughter of Tony Blair's pollster:
The tale of how she has nonetheless emerged, over councillors and a former minister, as the apparent frontrunner for the Labour candidacy in this outer-London Labour seat is being taken as another sign of the party's moral decay. It is, but it symbolises something even more damaging - sheer political ineptitude, both Gould's and Labour's.

Gould has reportedly enlisted a professional PR company. Her campaign materials have been glossy, abundant and sumptuous. Alastair Campbell and Tessa Jowell have been lobbying on her behalf.

Even for an ordinary candidate, such overkill would be ill-advised. For the daughter of a New Labour peer and millionaire publisher, it is worse. Campbell, moreover, is toxic; nobody with any political nous would touch him.

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