18th July 1997 at 01:00
That New Labour is an efficient, vote-winning machine there is no doubt. But, oh, the boredom of it all when the dramatic news that an MP has blown her nose must be cleared, centrally, in triplicate.

So thank heavens for the unreconstructed antics of the Socialist Educational Association, the once-influential organisation, affiliated to the party, which is apparently riven between Labours Old and New.

Last week Carborundum exclusively revealed that Graham Lane, the Grand Old Man of the SEA, was about to resign from his post as general secretary to spend more time doing the cleaning. Well, he didn't.

The reasons why Mr Lane didn't resign are somewhat opaque - as were the reasons he was planning to relinquish the post he had held for some 17 years. But like Sherlock Holmes's dog that didn't bark, Carborundum is one of the many seasoned observers who think it all highly significant.

It is no secret that Mr Lane had hoped that Robert Evans, a Labour Euro MP, would beat Max Morris into second place in the chairmanship ballot earlier this summer. But he didn't. Mr Lane has also intimated that not only does he think the current SEA membership far too old, but that the organisation needs to decide whether it becomes a "critical friend" of the Labour administration, or the party's quasi-official education wing.

The extraordinary general executive called on Saturday at which Mr Lane was due formally to tender his resignation turned into a five-hour row at which, allegedly, a vote of no confidence was passed in Mr Morris. Someone else then chaired the rest of the meeting, but apparently failed to wrest the chair itself from Mr M, who carried on as if nothing had happened, cheerfully describing what advice he would give the Labour leadership about education when he met them.

Carborundum is unable to add much to this except the personal opinion that perhaps Mr Lane, an increasingly influential figure within local government circles, was encouraged to remain within the SEA by forces within the Labour party. Neither of the main protagonists is saying much.

"It was my intention to resign but in view of what happened at the meeting I withdrew my resignation. I am still the elected general secretary. I was elected to the post in March. I remain general secretary and my wife has decided there will be less cleaning done," said Mr Lane tersely.

Mr Morris, asked whether the vote of no confidence pertained to the meeting or his chairmanship, retorted: "That was not my understanding of what happened. I was re-elected as chairman by a substantial majority of the membership in the country. But there was no official press release from this meeting and I am astonished that anyone should have talked to you."

Civil servants in educational quangos are miffed. The reason? The decision by the Department for Education to - as it were - take its ball away and revoke the traditional invitation for all and sundry to take part in the annual sports day at the civil servants' club in leafy Chiswick.

The reason given for the withdrawal is that since the merging of the ministries of education and employment there are just too many competitors without inviting semi-detached colleagues along.

But darker motives are suspected. Last year's tennis champion - who just happens to work for The Man Who Inspects Schools For The Queen at Ofsted - recalls overhearing a conversation while he was winning a match in which a senior Sanctuary Buildings civil servant was wondering out loud why such outsiders were invited along.

"There's a lot of resentment, particularly in light of the stuff in the White Paper on partnership and competition between schools," grumbles our champ. He added: "The DFEEis supposed to be coming to get their trophy back. It's just a useless bit of old chipboard, anyway."

Meeting the people is an entirely laudable New Labour policy. Unfortunately real people come into the same category as children and animals: the outcomes can be rather unexpected.

Take David Blunkett's choreographed trip to Tesco in sunny Shepherd's Bush, west London, in order to promote the mini-copies of his White Paper lurking among the Andrex. The Education Secretary made a point of pouncing upon startled shoppers to ask what they thought of schools. Curiously - probably since it was lunchtime - a number of trolley-pushers turned out to be teachers who engaged him in animated discussions on exactly how Gordon Brown's Pounds 2.5bn should be spent on education.

And then there was a very nice lady called Frances McCarthy, a teacher at Tolworth Girls, in Kingston, who was shopping with two tiny children. She was politeness itself to the charming Mr Blunkett, but shared her thoughts more fully with the reporter who collared her once the Education Secretary's entourage had whizzed away. "As soon as my 20-month-old boy is old enough for school, we're going to Ireland, where my husband comes from," she confided. "I didn't like to tell him that, but that's what we're doing."

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