Prime ministerial cavalcade backfires in press week

Mike Baker

The apocryphal polling advice in Ireland is to "vote early, vote often".

With its white paper, the Government's motto was "announce early, announce often". The result was media coverage spread over an entire week, not all of it as planned.

Even Ruth Kelly's big day in the Commons was overshadowed by the Prime Minister's speech to invited parents in Downing Street. This produced front-page stories in the Daily Telegraph, "All state schools to go independent", and the Guardian, "Blair sweeps aside critics of reform".

Coverage was dominated by two rows. The first was inside the Cabinet. On BBC1's Sunday political programme, Ruth Kelly inadvertently confirmed the disagreements with John Prescott over the role of LEAs. Monday's Daily Mail gleefully reported that "a battle loomed between Tony Blair and the Labour Left".

The second row came from another media event that backfired. With the white paper carelessly timed for half-term, and no schools available for photo-calls, Mr Blair dropped in on south London parents who were campaigning for a new school. But once the prime ministerial cavalcade had departed, the parents vented their frustrations to the media.

Most worrying for the Government was the Guardian's ICM poll showing that fewer than one in three people thought schools had improved under Labour.

The Sun had the dramatic headline "Schools bill pulped". No, this was not a last-minute concession to John Prescott. The official explanation was that the copies had been pulped because of "spelling mistakes". It was hard to know which version was the more embarrassing.

Mike Baker is the BBC's education correspondent

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