Another view - Cameron talks a walk in an unknown world

19th June 2009 at 01:00

How things change! Not long ago, the idea of a top politician visiting an FE college would have seemed preposterous. But there was David Cameron, walking across the wasteland where once stood the main building of Barnsley College.

Time was when a Tory in South Yorkshire was snowball-in-hell territory. Not any more. Mr Cameron was on the stump, and where better to embarrass rivals than at a college left in the lurch by the capital funding debacle?

Still, you must admit that it would be fun to be a fly on the wall during such a visit. For all his projection as a man of the people, the Tory leader's CV - prep school, Eton, Brasenose College, Oxford - doesn't provide much overlap with the more down-to-earth environment of FE. So what exactly he and Colin Booth, the principal, talked about we can only conjecture.

DC: It's good to be here today in Bournemouth.

Minder: Barnsley, Sir. It's like Bournemouth, but without the sea.

DC: Exactly. That's in northern Hertfordshire isn't it?

CB: South Yorkshire, actually. Now, Sir, before we go any further, I'd better ask if you know what an FE college actually is?

DC: Of course I do. I was shadow education minister, after all.

CB: So what is it?

DC: It's, it's . well, it's not a public school. I know that. And, by the way, please call me Dave.

CB: You're right there S . Dave. It's not a public school.

DC: So it must be . a sort of grammar school? A comprehensive? A secondary modern?

CB: Not exactly.

DC: Or a sixth form college, then. We're very keen on sixth forms in the Conservative Party. Let me say here and now that when we come to power, every school will have its own sixth form.

Minder: That's the speech for the headmasters' conference, Sir. Here, it's better to talk about value for money and the way training will help pull us out of recession.

CB: As we're on the subject of sixth forms, Sir, do you know how much more money per head schools get for 16 to 19-year-old students than we do?

DC: Er . (looks to minder) Do I?

Minder: You do. And you'll be setting up a high-powered committee to investigate it in the near future.

DC: Exactly. Couldn't have put it better myself.

CB: Perhaps a little humour would help to illustrate what we really do in this college, Sir. Do you know how many Tory grandees it takes to change a light bulb?

DC: Not as many as it would if they were Labour grandees.

CB: The answer's two, Sir. One to make the gin and tonics, and one to phone for the tradesman to change the bulb.

DC: Ha, ha. So that's what you do here, eh? Make gin and tonics. Too early in the day for me, I'm afraid.

CB: No, Sir. We do the other bit. Only I reckon electrical engineering's a bit more complicated than changing a bulb.

DC: Ah, now I get it. It's vocational education you go in for. I knew a few of those chaps at Oxford. You know, lawyers, medics - stuff like that.

CB: It's more plumbers, bricklayers and hairdressers we train here.

DC: Excellent. I'm glad someone's doing it. Do you know how hard it is to find a plumber in Notting Hill who speaks decent English?

CB: Funnily enough, Sir, I don't.

DC: Well now, are you going to show me around the place? What's left of it, I mean, after you've knocked most of it down. How about showing me the tuck shop?

CB: Certainly, Sir. Only we call it the canteen.

DC: Yes. And the room for fags?

CB: I'm afraid we banned smoking in 2001, Sir.

DC: Of course, yes. Well, look, I've really enjoyed my visit. And I'm glad to see we're now both talking the same language. Oh, and by the way, please call me Dave.

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