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Beyond the fringe party promises

Josephine Gardiner looks at the minority parties' manifestos for education. The wealth of minority parties and obscure splinter groups in Britain enlivens general elections; they have an enviable freedom to paint bold Utopian visions and their manifestos escape the antiseptic blandness that characterises the measured words of the main parties.

The prioritising of education in this election is being echoed by almost all the smaller parties, from the substantial Scottish and Welsh nationalists to the madder fringes represented by the breakaway Left and Right factions and the self-confessed Raving Loonies.

The most frequently mentioned education issues were nursery and higher education. Most parties want to scrap the voucher scheme and are bolder than Labour, promising free nursery education for three as well as four-year-olds. Plaid Cymru would keep children in nursery class until the age of six. The SNP obviously hopes to highlight Labour's reluctance to make spending commitments by filling its manifesto with detailed promises of substantial investment at every stage of education, plus a ring-fenced budget for experimental university research, insisting that independence would make Scotland rich enough to pay for this.

Student loans were a popular theme, with the SNP and Plaid Cymru joining forces with the old Liberal party and Militant (now the Socialist party) in promising to abolish loans in any form. Inspection was mentioned less frequently, although Plaid Cymru suggested that more carrot and less stick would be nice. Surprisingly, class size was not mentioned often either, apart from the Socialist party, which promises to reduce all classes to 20 eventually.

Of the weirder factions, the most interesting newcomer is The Third Way, which is on the Internet on http:www.keele.ac.ukdeptspoge97.htm. This party combines nationalism with environmental policies and "support for secessionist and independence movements throughout the world". It has two candidates standing, one of whom, Brent Cheetham, is a former member of the National Front. On education, the party opposes multiculturalism, supports state-funded schools for Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs and all other religious or cultural minorities. Its main platform seems to be an opposition to enforced cultural or racial mixing. Immigration has been "a weapon directed against the working class by a political and economic elite", but The Third Way "rejects racism and the politics of hate propagated by the far Right".

Confused? The TES suggests that the Natural Law party could be a better choice for teachers. The benefits of Yogic Flying for class control are obvious (so long as you don't teach the pupils how to do it), and problem pupils can all be brought into line "through the experience of pure consciousness".

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