25th April 1997 at 01:00
The world of education will heave a collective sigh of relief at the news that the election will not deprive it of the wit and wisdom of former secretaries of state Kenneth Baker and John Patten.

Both men had stood down - presumably to spend more time with their directorships - but have been rescued from the obscurity of the City by being kicked upstairs to the Lords. But there is a caveat: John Major expects the new crop of ex-Cabinet peers to sing for their supper and actually turn up for votes. That means that those deemed to be keener on making money than making themselves available to support the Tories were not going to be considered for ermine.

Presumably this will not deter our two new lords, despite their lucrative new careers. Dr Patten, a former geography don, has taken on a non-executive directorship with Alfred McAlpine now that his Whither Toryism? tract, The Shape Of Things To Come, has made the remainder piles.

Meanwhile, Mr Baker has just joined the board of Millennium Chemicals to add to his directorships of Bell Cablemedia, MTT, the Blackstone Group, Wavetech and the Hanson conglomerate. Oh, and he is honorary chairman of the Museum of Natural History, and adviser to Mercury, ICL and the Harris Parliamentary Panel (although this last fee goes to a drugs charity of which he is patron). Crumbs.

Anyway, Carborundum will watch Lord Patten of Hellfire's contributions with particular interest, given the accuracy of his predictions on the number of grant-maintained secondary schools by this election (more than half, he said, promising to eat his academic hat if this was not the case). The true total is more like 16 per cent.

Still, even Dr P admits he wasn't a born politician. His original reason for becoming involved? Getting a letter about his pension arrangements on becoming a Fellow at Hertford College which ended: "PS. You retire on September 30, 2013." He told author Peter Ribbins: "That seemed to me light years away. And I can remember thinking, good heavens above, am I really going to be doing this for all of my life?" A couple of lucky breaks followed: first, that Patten was active politically locally "just long enough to make a splash but not long enough to make enemies", and then that Margaret Thatcher sent him to the Northern Ireland Office. "I'm not quite sure why. It was either flattering, or she confused me with Chris Patten, or she thought I was going to be a nuisance. "

Peers should, however, be warned about Dr Patten's sense of humour, as demonstrated by the naming of his cats, General (Patten) and Willow (Patten). "Unfortunately General had to be put down because he got an infectious blood disease, poor thing; and so we got another one, which I wanted to call Knitting (Patten), but I wasn't allowed to by my seven-year-old daughter, who thought that was frivolous." Any chance of the peerage being transferred to young Mary-Claire? Pronto?

Should the Conservatives pull off an electoral miracle and get themselves back into Whitehall in a week's time, it seems increasingly unlikely that Gillian Shephard will be tripping back into Sanctuary Buildings.

Quite apart from the small matter of the packing cases spotted on their way in, there is the problem of policy. Mrs Shephard has sounded terribly fervent about the joys of a grammar education, as being espoused in the manifesto. Trouble is, the more fervent she gets, the more unconvinced she sounds, leading to the continuing feeling that this policy might not be entirely of her choosing.

Erroneously or not, this impression was reinforced by events surrounding the Conservatives' education launch this week. Official press conference over, and Mrs Shephard safely out of the way, the hacks were sitting round exchanging notes on what it all meant.

Then, out of the shadows, popped a man in a suit. Blinking in the unaccustomed limelight, he asked: "Is there anything I can help you with on this?" His identity? Sean Williams, education guru at the Prime Minister's personal policy unit since last October. Carborundum is sure he was motivated purely by a spirit of helpfulness.

Union leaders are not exactly known for ladling out the milk of human kindness, and so Nigel de Gruchy can be forgiven for his schadenfreude over the pre-election poll commissioned by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers.

This found that 72 per cent of his members rated it as the most efficient union, compared with the 67 per cent of NUT members who chose theirs as best, and just half of those in the ATL. There is, shall we say, a bit of needle between Nigel and the ATL at present. Cackles Nigel: "I think it's hilarious. We decided to publish and be damned."

To the union's credit, it also published the information that members of all unions rated the NUT the most effective organisation, followed by the NASUWT on 25 per cent.

Still, what union other than the Nasuwt would run a competition for new conference delegates, with a prize of breakfast with Nigel - preceded by an early morning swim with him. For the runners-up, perhaps there was breakfast on two days . . .?

The last Diary before the election should not go without mentioning a press release which truly encapsulates that great argument: Class Sizes - Do They Matter? Neatly taped to the release is a condom (extra safe, unused), with the caption "Is this the only way to keep class sizes down?" Carborundum is, frankly, lost for words.

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