4th April 1997 at 01:00
Forget four-letter words. These days it is four-syllable words which offend the sensitivities of Labour spin-doctors. Socialism - the S-word - is one. And revolution is another, as doughty Socialist Graham Lane discovered last week.

Mr Lane had been invited to address the National Union of Teachers' annual bash in his capacity as chair of the new Local Government Association, an event notable in itself. "I haven't addressed the NUT conference since I was expelled for not going on unofficial strike." Eh? "I wasn't even there at the time to go on unofficial strike," he continues with gusto.

But we digress. Mr Lane decided that since he was intending to speak about the literacy and numeracy campaigns espoused by education spokesman David Blunkett, he should first run his ideas past those in Millbank, the party's HQ. "I wanted to talk a bit about the literacy revolution David Blunkett has launched. I wanted to quote Gramsci, the Italian communist and philosopher, who wrote that if you want revolution, you have to teach the peasants to read and write, " explains Mr Lane cheerfully.

The man on the other end of the phone was not quite so cheerful. "He said the word revolution might be misunderstood. No sense of humour."

Still, censorship did not prevent Mr Lane from enjoying his five minutes of triumph.

"I came to the view that not everybody in the audience would appreciate who Gramsci was. Apparently I electrified them."

The long silence surrounding the appointment of the first chairman of the Government's new education superquango is being punctuated by increasingly odd rumours.

Regular readers will recall that the Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority (which has now lost the National bit from its title in order to create a less risible acronym) has been awaiting a chairman for months.

The hot money has been on the wily Bill Stubbs - the former Further Education Funding Council supremo - but the lack of an announcement is confusing all and sundry.

But now, an explanation: although both Labour and the Conservatives would be happy with his chairmanship, the crucial letter officially offering the post got mislaid in the bottom of one of Education Secretary Gillian Shephard's red boxes (mandarins apparently not alerting her that time was of the essence) and did not surface for signing until the election had been announced and it was too late.

Sounds like a good cock-up theory, but the Department for Education and Employment denies it, saying only that an announcement will be made in due course. Watch this space on May 2.

If the Labour slogan "Education, education and education" sounds passionate and heartfelt, at least part of the explanation may lie in its genesis.

According to spokesman David Blunkett, it came from an opinion poll conducted by North Yorkshire Training and Enterprise Council. He explains: "We asked the public via a reputable polling agencyabout their favourite occupation. In North Yorkshire 43 per cent said sex was their most enjoyable occupation. The remaining 47 per cent said education." Carborundum has heard a great many stereotypes concerning Yorkshire men and women, but accusing them of being more interested in education than sex?

And on the subject of Mr Blunkett ... there is apparently much enthusiasm among the apparatchiks of Sanctuary Buildings for the idea of volunteering to take his guide dog, Lucy, for those necessary little outings from the office should her master become the next Secretary of State for Education. Nothing to do with political partisanship, or even being a nation of dog lovers. No. Their altruism seems almost entirely motivated by their social status as pariahs - sorry, smokers - who are not allowed to indulge their noxious habits within the building. With luck, Lucy is sufficiently inured to smoke-filled rooms to take a diet of open-air passive smoking in her stride.

In the past, education minister Cheryl Gillan - famous for installing a tankful of fish in her office - kept a small dog under her desk which fulfilled the same role of exercising the Department's unreconstructed nicotine addicts, but the beast has not been spotted within the building for some time. "Perhaps it got eaten by the fish," suggests an insider, nastily.

After the dullest NUT conference for years, news of just one odd incident is surfacing. Various members of the great and the good, invited to the union's pre-conference dinner, are still digesting the peculiar moment when supremo Doug McAvoy was introduced by his underling Steve "Squeaky Clean" Sinnott as the deputy general secretary. This is Sinnott's title.

"No one in the room knew if he'd done it deliberately or if it was a Freudian slip but Doug was definitely not amused and Steve didn't apologise that I heard. There was just this embarrassed laughter," says Carborundum's mole. We suspect it's the way Mr S tells 'em.

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