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Fancy footwork;Leading Article;Opinion

Were members of the National Union of Teachers scared into voting for Doug McAvoy by the spectre of a general secretary run by the Socialist Workers Party? Were they in effect opting for the devil they know? Or does Mr McAvoy's conclusive vote show that union members - or, rather, the 30 per cent who voted - wholeheartedly support his leadership and the status quo?

Whatever the answers to such tricky questions, ministers must be highly relieved that it will be Mr McAvoy, and not Christine Blower, across the negotiating table. Even rival unions, whose membership might have benefited from a leftwards lurch by the NUT, believe that now would be a bad time for instability in the largest teachers' union.

Once again, Mr McAvoy's fancy footwork has outwitted the rival camps within his union. His habit of balloting his members over the heads of his activists has saved him, notably following the calls for industrial action at last Easter's fiery conference.

But the Government should not take too much comfort from this result. Doug McAvoy promises robust opposition to a link between appraisal and pay, and to taking pupil performance into account - both at the heart of Labour's proposed reforms.

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