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Spare a thought for the children

A cameraman and photographer lurked on the steps of Congress House in London's West End.

In the ladies' toilets, delegates at a conference entitled "Children: Do They Count?" there were dark mutterings about the Hodge affair. "I hope there's not a journalist in the next cubicle," said one to the other.

But Margaret Hodge, one of the conference's key speakers, did not look like a minister facing the guillotine over alleged mishandling of child abuse in Islington when she was leader of the north London council.

She bemoaned the "heightism" of conference centres, with their towering speakers' lecturns, before apologising from the chairman's table for arriving late and having to leave early (government legislation "ping ponging" between the Commons and the Lords).

Mrs Hodge cited the creation of a children's minister as a key government achievement, without reference to the media storm surrounding her tenure of the post.

And she managed a shot back, criticising society's attitudes towards children and its reflection in media portrayals - from ne'er-do-well Martin Fowler in EastEnders to The Sun's "shop a yob" campaign.

"The actuality is nearly nine out of 10 13 to 19-year-olds are engaged in some kind of voluntary activity in their local communities," she said.

"As a country and a nation, the British culture has not been very good to children."

Or to the children's minister, she might have added.

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