Diary

31st July 1998 at 01:00
* M for money . . .

Reshuffle fever reminded the Diary of a classic tale about Stephen Dorrell, late unlamented shadow education spokesman. At some point during his briefish tenure, Mr Dorrell, a famously laid-back character, apparently decided it was time to visit a grant-maintained school and find out what they were all about.

Not just any old establishment was earmarked. It was arranged that the Dorrell expedition would chart the London Oratory in Brompton, famous (or infamous) for being the destination of Tony Blair's Number One Son when the family were still living in an entirely different catchment area on the other side of London, and when Labour's official line on such establishments was that they were Inventions of the Devil.

So Mr Dorrell was shown around the Oratory, and was much taken by the rows of attentive pupils, the quality of teaching, etc, etc. Taking his leave, he enquired with real interest: "And what did you say the fees were?" * G for grammar...

BUT we must not mock Mr D too severely. He was not the only prominent Conservative to find himself somewhat wobbly on what this flagship policy was all about, as young Mr Hague (almost) admitted this week when he said the public had been puzzled by GM schools. He blamed the name, saying independent state schools would have been an easier concept to grasp.

Incomprehension was not limited to the great unwashed. Apparently, during the last election campaign, education secretary Gillian Shephard was (initially) delighted to get a call from Charles Lewington, the party's then director of communications, informing her that the PM had been to several comprehensives and was now to visit a grant-maintained school.

"Oh good, which one?" enquired Mrs S. A name was mentioned. "Ah yes," she beamed, "that one's a comprehensive."

"No," came the irascible voice down the phone, "It's a GM school."

"Yes," said Mrs S patiently, "a comprehensive GM school."

"No, no, no," came the reply. "It's a GM school. GM - that means grammar. " History, sadly, does not relate whether Mrs S began rhythmically hitting her head on her ministerial desk at this point in the conversation.

* ...and B for...

CONGRATULATIONS and bye-bye to Stephen Byers, formerly Minister of this parish, newly selected by the PM to ensure everybody else spends money prudently in his new job as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

A tad ironic, perhaps, for a man whose main public claim to fame until now was for claiming seven times eight made 54, during a radio interview on numeracy. "That's micro economics. What he'll be doing now is the macro stuff," says a former underling, loyally.

Still, Mr Byers is clearly a man with a strong winning streak. Not only did he pick the winning Grand National nag in a staffroom sweepstake during a school visit (and donated his winnings to the cream cake fund) but most recently he put down hard cash at odds of 11-1 on a lesser-known racehorse which also romped home. Its name? Doctor Spin.

Susan Young

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