The edge - Amanda Platell defends Tony's "moobies"

If only "media studies" taught kids that doing anything "in the media" takes years of long shifts, e

However much we may be appalled by the idea, David and Victoria Beckham are role models for many young people in this country. So when the mother-of-three boasts that she has never read a book in her life, it really is time for us to worry. She's too stupid to realise what she is doing, and too vain to care, but by making such statements she is encouraging a whole generation of kids not to read - unless it is, of course, her favourite fashion magazines.

Enter the New Illiterates, the self-made millionaires for whom style, celebrity and ignorance are bywords.

The tragedy is that Mrs Beckham's ill-judged pronouncements make the one in five kids in the country who can't read at 11 feel validated. And all this from a woman who would rather engage with beauty parlours than Bronte, for whom contemporary wisdom is not even Helen Fielding but the trivia dished out by the glossies. And when she says she would love another child, a girl this time, so she can "help her with her make-up and clothes", it makes you realise what she believes motherhood is about: not hours spent reading to your child, but a quick trip to Bond Street. We can rest assured that there will be plenty of Prada but no Harry Potter in that household.

What a shame that so many kids look up to Victoria Beckham, when she hasn't even got the good sense to know when to keep her perpetually pouting mouth shut.

The Tory leadership contenders are warming up with a few blows below the belt of the incumbent, Michael Howard. Malcolm Rifkind, leading light of the left, attacked the 2005 campaign as "indefensible" and David Cameron, star of the Notting Hill set, hit back by warning Tories not to "trash the brand" in their quest for power.

I have much respect for both men, but despair that Rifkind has not learned that attacking your own party only makes it and you appear nastier. As for the youthful Cameron, as long as he thinks a political party is based not on principle but marketing jargon, we are all lost.

In attacking the Prime Minister at Robin Cook's funeral, John McCririck broke the cardinal rule. Funerals are for the dead and the suffering, not for cheap, personal point-scoring.

Top of the hierarchy of loss were Gaynor and Robin's sons, none of whom sought or appreciated his vulgar headline-grabbing initiative. And anyone with half a heart would have known how painful McCririck's reminder of Tony Blair's snub would have been to Gaynor and Robin's sons at such a time.

A-levels are dumbing down with 97 per cent pass rates, and who do we blame - the teachers, the examiners, the government, the kids? No, apparently it's all the fault of media studies. Students are dropping harder areas of study and opting for this, the Cinderella of subjects, in an attempt to get better grades.

But that's not it at all. Young people love the idea of getting into the media. My adorable 15-year-old niece recently filled out a job prospectus at her school declaring she wanted to be "Aunty Mandy".

If only these courses taught kids the reality that doing anything "in the media" takes years and years of hard work, long shifts, late nights, excessive drinking, disappointments and sackings. Most importantly, the best preparation for such a career is a good university degree, with no media studies.

Never usually slow to criticise the Prime Minister, I must leap to his defence, or rather the defence of his "moobies", common parlance for male breasts of the flabby, middle-aged variety. They were displayed, along with his wobbly tummy, in pictures taken of him swimming on holiday.

As any woman of a certain age knows, the battle against the bulge is one that can be fought after 50 only with endless hours in the gym and a vanity distinctly unappealing in a man over 20. Give me a warm, cuddly partner as much at ease with his moobies as he is with my wobbly bits any day.

This article first appeared in the 22 August 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Have you heard the one about. . .