3rd October 1997 at 01:00
At the age of 13, Simon Eddy, last week's Liberal Democrat conference's boy wonder, is already an experienced politician. In his own words (which are many) he was "at the top level of the Green party" for some time - their principal speaker for British youth, in fact. When he refused to resign from the Greens over his involvement with a Pounds 75 million project to build the largest bio-sphere in the world, his ejection merited front-page coverage.

Bravely, he dusted himself down and joined the Liberal Democrats a month ago, taking with him, he says, all 1,500 members of an under-18 grouping of Greens called SPLAT (after their logo, not their policies).

The Lib Dems must be charmed to welcome such an array of environmentally-conscious youth. Certainly the conference warmed to Simon's speech, in which he called for tougher pollution controls, saying: "We are living in what can only be described as a microwave - we are frying ourselves. " The next speaker, Keith Melton, said: "I believe we have just seen a future leader of the Liberal Democrats," adding, cruelly: "I only hope he doesn't go bald."

The Beatle-fringed Master Eddy was encountered the next day as he was photographed among the bookstalls. He was unsurprised to be approached for a TES interview. His press officer was planning to arrange one, he said. He had a press officer? Oh yes, he said airily, several: the party had assigned him a special team.

Been speaking in public for some time, had he? Yup, winner of the Rotary Club public-speaking competition four or five years running. Anybody given him helpful tips? His dad, a politics graduate and sociology lecturer at St Austell College and a staunch Labour supporter who "always votes Lib Dem tactically". And he's had a lot of help from the parties - and even from the press ("I think they do sort of egg you on"). But he has already, alas, acquired the politician's trick. "I've learnt if you don't want to answer a question you can bypass it," he says.

Remembering Blackadder's jibe about Pitt the embryo, Carborundum was delighted to learn that Master Eddy - a pupil at Penrice Languages College in St Austell - was only allowed time off from school to become the next William Hague on condition that he did the work he was going to miss first.

Would-be students still confused about the plans for loans and fees should worry no further. That nice Government has helpfully printed a dinky leaflet, entitled Students' Questions About The New Arrangements. Perfectly reasonable questions, it's just a pity about some of the answers. For instance, how much will my parents pay towards the Pounds 1,000 fee? "This will be assessed by your local education authority's awards office. How much you pay will depend entirely on your family's income." And so it continues, with no hint as to where family income brackets might start and end.

Perhaps the most classic use of bypassing questions is: what happens if parents won't make the contribution? Answer: "There is no reason why your parents should refuse to help you in the future as they will be expected to contribute no more than they would have to under the present system." Um, don't some parents refuse to contribute under the present system?

Still, despite the rumblings down in Brighton this week, Labour's rank and file appear not to have taken out their angst about the end of free university education on David Blunkett.

Amazingly, the Education Secretary managed to come second in the "beauty contest" poll for the national executive committee, sandwiched neatly between the mega-popular Robin Cook and the sainted Mo Mowlam. Media maestro Peter Mandelson, it will be remembered, was pipped to the post by the newt-fancying Ken Livingstone.

The strange thing is that the ballot papers were posted after Mr B announced that fees were in, grants out. Perhaps sensibly, he's not pushing his luck. It is thought unlikely that he will stand again next year: apparently there is some technicality about executive members being constituency representatives rather than members of the Government.

Carborundum feels exhausted just thinking about the leading lights of New Labour. Take Helena Kennedy, barrister (with a penchant for defending underdogs), university chancellor and newly-created baroness who knocked out a deeply enthusiastic report on further education in a more-than-passable imitation of the sector's jargon.

Carborundum wondered if she was a Blairite alien who could get more than 24 hours in a day. However, the good Baroness's mum has a reassuring answer.

"Have you seen her skirting boards?" And Mrs Kennedy senior had a classic - if unintentional - putdown for her daughter who was brought up as a good Catholic girl in Glasgow. She was very excited by the news of her daughter'elevation to the peerage until the Baroness deflated her with the correction: "Lords, mum, not Lourdes".


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