Theresa May told the Conference of Local Education Authorities that Westminster should cut its own administration bill instead of criticising council red tape.
She said: "Before you attack LEAs and their red tape, put your own house in order, Mr Blunkett. In 1998, 322 missives, documents, diktats and guidance came down from the DFEE to councils and schools."
Her words marked a clear change of political tack, portraying the Conservatives as the local authorities' true friend. For many in the audience, however, it was a hard message to swallow. Years of being vilified under the Tories are not easily forgotten.
"Yes," Mrs May admitted, anticipating a sceptical response, "bureaucracy did increase under the last Conservative government.
But she said: "David Blunkett came in saying things could only get better when actually they are getting worse."
Andrew Neill, political commentator and former editor of the Sunday Times, had a less than rosy view. He warned delegates: "In the next 20 years, there won't be any LEAs. You are a dying breed that has failed the nation - particularly working-class children."