Desperately seeking a headline

15th April 2005 at 01:00
Education, education, education remain Tony Blair's priorities, we learned on Sunday as a sweaty PM used his re-selection in an overheated Sedgefield Labour club, to restate the party's most famous commitment.

The speech provided a few Monday headlines about parent power ("Labour to give parents power to sack heads", Independent; "Blair vow on schools", Sun). But it failed to shift Tory leader Michael Howard's dominance of the evening TV news bulletins as he started yet another row about immigration.

Labour leads the Tories in the polls on education, while the Tories are ahead on immigration. So, Education Secretary Ruth Kelly ("her eyes still heavy with tiredness", Daily Mail) was hauled out of bed for a 7.20am press conference on Monday to help launch Labour's already familiar education and economic manifesto commitments.

Radio 4's Today brought Stephen Twigg, the school standards minister, together with Lib Dem spokesman Phil Willis even earlier, at 6.50am.

Both also sounded sleepy: Mr Twigg talking about knives in schools and seemingly unable to recall Labour's secondary school achievements, while Mr Willis thought he was there to discuss last month's response to the Tomlinson report.

Monday being Tory manifesto day, party election chief David Cameron was quizzed an hour later about his party's plans to pay school fees at cut-price private schools when he really wanted to talk about school discipline.

That's because Mr Howard's hand-written 11-word manifesto slots "school discipline" between "lower taxes" and "controlled immigration" among the things he thinks we should be thinking about (or that his pollsters think we are thinking about).

The trouble is that breakfast launches are long forgotten by the teatime news.

Even Lib Dem plans to cut class sizes were overtaken when party leader Charles Kennedy's wife Sarah went into hospital, giving birth to Donald James early Tuesday morning.

By Tuesday, the Guardian was claiming that Labour's plans for more school choice had been undermined by Solicitor General Harriet Harman's declaration on BBC1's Daily Politics that "a good local school (is) not a practical reality".

But the truth is that the campaign agenda had moved on to "the economy, stupid" by lunchtime on Monday, anyway. Education had had its time.

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