Diary

16th May 1997 at 01:00
To win one seat may be counted good fortune, to win two begins to look like carelessness. But that is what has happened in Kent, where Conservative Keith Ferrin now occupies two seats on the council.

Lest Carborundum should be thought to be suggesting something not quite proper, let us explain that Mr Ferrin's dual mandate is both legal and temporary. He still sits for the ward of Gillingham South East, which will be absorbed next year into the unitary authority of Medway and was not, therefore, one of the seats up for re-election this year. And he has been newly elected for the ward of Swale West. So until April 1998 he has two seats.

And two votes? "No, one," said the county's press office firmly. Which is a shame for the Conservatives, because it means they have only 49 votes on the council, exactly the same as the combined forces of Labour (30) and the Lib dems (19). Only Mr Ferrin's second seat gives them a majority on paper.

This peculiar state of affairs is giving rise to many meetings in smoke-filled rooms and should be resolved at the first full council meeting next Thursday.

The most likely outcome seems to be another Lib-Lab coalition of the kind that was running Kent before the county elections. That, however, would be only temporary. When all 15 Medway seats are removed next April, Kent will revert to its historic state of being Tory.

The National Children's Bureau is to have a new chief of PR (sorry, director of marketing and communications) - but not just yet. For Sally Whitaker is so highly prized by her current employer, Birkbeck College, that it has insisted she serve out her three months' notice before starting at the NCB in June.

Ms Whitaker was happy to comply with this and turned up at Birkbeck last Tuesday as usual. But she arrived to find her boss had gone. The very person who had insisted she stay to the bitter end - Baroness Blackstone, Master of the college - had been whisked off over night in her ministerial limo. When Tony calls, you down tools straight away.

Beards, beards, beards. It doesn't sound quite as good as education, education, education. But the promotion of hairy chins is the real task facing David Blunkett, according to our old friend Keith Flett, socialist historian and animator of the Beard Liberation Front.

The BLF's central committee has, we gather, welcomed the "tremendous advance" that the appointment of an Education Secretary with a beard represents.

"You only have to look at Blunkett's beard," said Mr Flett, "to see the immediate difference from clean shaven zealots such as Kenneth Baker and John Patten."

Concerned that Blunkett has trimmed his beard - and might trim his education policy (see "In by a whisker", page 27) - Mr Flett calls on him to sack at once "the leading exponent of clean-shaven revisionism in education, Chris Woodhead" and to "explain in detail to Michael Barber the joys of having a beard". He also wants to see a beard quota of 10 per cent for male teachers.

One of the oddest side-effects of a sudden rise to the vertiginous heights of ministerial responsibility must be the appearance of hordes of hacks expressing an obsessive interest in one's past life.

News that Estelle Morris had been made deputy school standards minister aroused curiosity at The TES because the Birmingham MP is a former teacher at Sidney Stringer comprehensive in Coventry.

Finding out what she had taught, however, proved intriguingly difficult. Ms Morris had obviously not imagined that anybody would be interested, so her press office could not help and all the parliamentary guides seemed to think "profession: teacher" was illuminating enough.

Could she have taught something a bit embarrassing, something cartoonists could jump on? Cookery? Crochet? Shooting? Field Sports? Hockey? Sex?

Disappointment all round when it emerged that she was in charge of humanities and social science.

The TES rang more than 20 PTAs this week to see how shocked they were by stories about wrong-doing in their umbrella body, the National Confederation. The Charity Commissioners are investing allegations of malpractice, including much junketing on expenses.

Imagine our surprise when not one of the associations had heard of the allegations, even though they were written up at length in the Guardian - a PTA-ish sort of paper - and quite a few had never heard of the NCPTA. This gives rise to two questions: where do the PTAs think their subscriptions are going? And is the NCPTA strictly necessary?

Labour is finding it harder than expected to get rid of the nursery voucher scheme. It announced plans to stop it at the end of this term in Wales, but apparently things are more complicated in England.

Still, even in England, vouchers are expected to be phased out by Christmas. So it is somewhat surprising still to find stacks of leaflets telling parents how to claim vouchers at the checkouts in BHS. May we suggest putting a "cash-by" date on them?

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