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And they're off! Hopefuls jockey for the top post

Ian Nash reports on the race to be boss of the powerful learning and skills council

THERE'S a real kerfuffle at the starting gate here at the first Rumour Mill race meet of 2000.

As Posh Spice tries to unnerve David "The Prof" Melville - early favourite in the Learning and Skills Council stakes - it looks certain there will be a stewards' inquiry into how former college employers' boss Roger Ward was entered as a late runner.

Yes, they're quietening down now. They're under starter's orders - and they're away! Immediately, The Prof is out three lengths ahead, but the two Chrises - Hughes and Humphreys - are catching up fast.

Surprise entries these, since both protested they would not run.

Hughes was last seen sipping pina coladas on Bondi Beach (the Further Education development Agency's latest distance-learning acquisition). Humphreys was thought to be leaving the Chamber of Commerce to rescue Britain's small businesses.

Bringing up the rear are Pudsey Bear, "Dobbo" Dobson and Jeffrey the Archer. Derek "Remember Me?" Draper is flagging as is Herman "Equal Opps" Ousely. But well ahead of them - and looking every bit a last-lap winner is former Lambeth authority boss Heather Rabbatts. Watch this one: not so much a Blair Babe as a Tony Fave - he's been grooming her for something really big.

And what's going on here? Foul play by Mac "the NATFHE Knife" Mackney, riding Ward into the rails.

And there's collusion mid-field among The Prof's predecessr at the funding council, chief Bill "Sir Will" Stubbs, tricky Tony Higgins (wearing the UCAS colours) and Eddie "The Cook" McIntyre - now there's a rider who knows his horses. But rumours of him going for a job-share with Pat "The Dame" Morgan-Webb have proved unfounded. However, watch this space. There are strong hints that Geoff Daniels left the funding council for New College Nottingham to become Principal-in-Waiting - waiting for a big move by the Dame, that is.

Hello. What's Michael Fry of the CBI doing in the race? He's supposed to be a favourite for the Chairman's Cup. But then, with the state of this course, anything could happen. To be continued...

Guide to the form*

Chris Humphries, 3-1

David Melville, 4-1

Chris Hughes, 5-1

Geoff Hall, 10-1

John Hedger, 10-1

Jacqui Henderson 10-1

Leigh Lewis, 10-1

John Randall, 10-1

Michael Scott,10-1

Nick Stuart, 10-1

Bill Stubbs, 10-1

Tony Higgins, 20-1

Peter Knight, 20-1

Eddie McIntyre, 20-1

Pat Morgan-Webb, 20-1

Michael Richardson, 20-1

Judith Rutherford, 20-1

Jim Scrimshaw, 20-1

Diana Warwick, 20-1

Paul Mackney, 50-1

Heather Rabbatts, 50-1

Herman Ousely,100-1

Roger Ward, 100-1

Derek Draper, 500-1

Victoria Beckham, 1000-1

Pudsey Bear, 1000-1

Jeffrey Archer, 1000-1

Frank Dobson, 1000-1

Martin Jenkins, 5000-1

Keith Wymer, 10000-1

*Odds: Scurrilous Bookmakers Ltd

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