Byers' market

2nd October 1998 at 01:00
PETER Mandelson is unjustly feted, the Diary considers, as the Labour party's Machiavelli. He has a rival: Stephen Byers, the former school standards minister and now Face To Watch at the Treasury.

You want proof? Back in the summer, Mr B apparently engineered a meeting in his Sanctuary Buildings eyrie with local government education fixer Graham Lane. Flunkies were dispatched out of earshot and Mr B got down to business.

The Chancellor's comprehensive spending review was not going the department's way, he confided. Too much of the extra cash seemed to be finding its way into Health's coffers: was there anything Mr Lane could do in the way of publicity to help swing interest back education's way?

Mr Lane trotted out of the building and back to the Local Government Association, where various plots were cooked up. Teachers' pay and conditions, they decided, was the big issue. The masterstroke was to suggest that the previously sacrosanct working hours (school holidays) might be up for grabs.

All hell broke loose, thus allowing both the teacher employers and the Government to open all sorts of cans of worms and getting education its fair share of Mr Brown's cash bonanza. Oops, a bit of government rhetoric creeping in there.

Now it's all going to be sorted out (or not) by way of a Green Paper later in the autumn, so everyone is happy. Except, perhaps, the teachers. Mr Lane confides: "NASUWT told me that at one point there were posters of Margaret Hodge (who also dared to voice the unthinkable on school hols), Chris Woodhead (no explanation required, surely?) and me on staffroom walls, and there were most darts aimed at me. I was quite proud of that."

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