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First pre-election warm-up moves

IN a week dominated by repercussions from the Peter Mandelson affair, there was a little light limbering up for the election with Gordon Brown and David Blunkett performing at the Fabian Society seminar last weekend at the London School of Economics.

The Chancellor promised to target tax cuts for the poor, create full employment and put an end to child poverty; while the Education and Employment Secretary warned that state subsidies for pensions and university fees could not be sustained in the old way. So, tougher times ahead for the middle classes.

Laura Spence, like the Hindujas, won't go away. She came back to haunt Gordon Brown when Evan Harris, the local Lib Dem MP, revealed figures showing that Oxford University discriminated in favour of pupils from comprehensives during the year she applied, with a higher proportion of applicants gaining places than those who applied from the independent sector.

Criticism of the university by the Chancellor was completely unfounded, he said, to the delight of dons and the Daily Mail.

Last May, Mr Brown said it was "an absolute scandal" that Magdalen College refused Ms Spence, a talented comprehensive school student, a place to study medicine. She went on to win a scholarship to Harvard after achieving her predicted A grades in five A-levels.

Harriet Harman, the former social security secretary, re-entered the lmelight with the publication of the Childcare Commission's report. As head of the commission she was the target for Tory flak in proposing that parents should be paid to stay at home with children for the first three years and given tax relief of up to pound;440 a year to help with childcare until children reach 16.

David Willetts, the Conservative social security spokesman, dismissed the plans as "batty" and they were derided by some of his colleagues as "an attempt to nationalise childcare".

But Tory MP Edward Leigh, a member of the 13-strong commission, who has six children, said the report recognised for the first time that parents would have a choice over whether to work or stay at home.

"What we are talking about is a very humane solution," he said.

Prince William should be afforded some humane treatment when he starts his art history course at St Andrew's University this autumn if students and staff heed a warning from the principal.

Dr Brian Lang said he was determined to protect the prince's privacy and would take a "dim view" of information being passed to the media.

This could amount to expulsion or disciplinary action. But no special security request had been made to the university, said a spokesman for the prince.

Just as well, then, that MI5 has already uncovered a plot to bug his telephone calls, e-mails and Internet use.

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