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Commentary - Tories are 'now the party of the teacher'

According to Michael Gove, there is no occupation more admirable than teaching. He said he honoured the work done by teachers, saluted their sacrifices and applauded their commitment to the nation's children.

Under David Cameron, Mr Gove added, the Conservative Party was "now the party of the teacher".

Yet in the same breath, the Education Secretary said that, despite their sacrifices and commitment, teachers have overseen a failure to keep pace with the rest of the world. England has fallen behind, he said, and under the Conservative government "the injustice will end".

Mr Gove's speech typified the identity battle the Conservative Party was waging with itself during this year's conference.

Despite this being the first conference the party has held in government for 14 years, the atmosphere was more sober than celebratory.

The central theme of Mr Gove's keynote address was to right the wrongs that beset the nation's poorest children. More children from top independent school Westminster attend the best universities than the entire cohort of 80,000 boys and girls on free school meals, he said - not for the first time.

But just 24 hours earlier, the chancellor had announced a cap on the benefits on which these children's families depend.

Mr Gove heralded his plans for school reform, the creation of free schools and the expansion of new academies as places where teachers would be able to innovate, free from central government control.

But minutes later he was touting a new curriculum review, central to which were plans to ensure no pupil would leave school without learning "the narrative of British history".

Mr Gove's speech played all of the chords that make Conservative hearts sing and yet there was an overarching sense of paradox in his party's plans.

It is clear that the Education Secretary is sincere when he says he will fight to "liberate our poorest children from the shadow of ignorance and the chains of dependency".

It is also clear Mr Gove is a leading advocate of the Prime Minister's compassionate conservatism and a key player in the party's Big Society.

But it is an idea the party is still getting used to.

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