18th November 1994 at 00:00
Chateau Carborundum is a quieter place without the blustering presence of John Haggitt Patten boldly going forth where others would fear to tread. Particularly since Gillian Shephard is tiptoeing so daintily through the interesting selection of mines and mantraps left abandoned around the Sanctuary Buildings bunker.

Just how adroit a political operator the diminutive Mrs S must be became apparent to Carborundum this week, when we learned how helpful she has proved to her new opposite number, David Blunkett.

Mr Blunkett - no mean practitioner of the political black arts himself - had discovered a way of competing with Golden Virginia Bottomley for publicity when he was shadowing her at the Health ministry. He would request permission to visit a hospital, which she would refuse unless a minister was attending. He would then inform the Sunday papers of this abuse of power. Fuming, Mrs B would grudgingly grant permission. "And then we'd get the story that she'd climbed down in the next week's Sunday papers as well, getting two for the price of one," confides a grinning aide.

Mrs Shephard's first action on welcoming Mr Blunkett to Education? An invitation - sweetly delivered - to visit any schools he wanted.

Grudging recognition of Mrs S's skills was apparent in Sanctuary Buildings on the day of the Great Curriculum Unveiling last week.

A bright spark among her officials had concocted something wittily described as the Launchtime (sic) Menu at the Cafe de Fe.

It starts off quietly enough with Consultation Soup and Compendium Cocktail, before moving on to Gillian Shephard's Pie or NUT Loaf. "All served with a carrot or two and MFL (Modern Foreign Language) Fries."

It continues: "Just Deserts: Conference Pears and Cream or Various I Screams. 10-Level Cheeses Selection. Fresh Fruits and Nuts. Full Whine List available. "

It's nice to learn that the parental consultation on the national curriculum was such a useful exercise. And on the subject of exercise, at least one dad had sound - if idiosyncratic - reasons for wanting the status of team games uplifted. "They ought to do lots of jumping around, because it tires the little buggers out before they get home," he explained to the researchers.

To the Carlton Club, bastion of High Toryism, for the inaugural R A Butler speech of the Conservative Education Association, which severely annoyed Mrs S's predecessor by being too left-wing.

Guest speaker David Hunt - whose Ministerial responsibilities left him unable to say much about education, and whose speech had anyway been written just that afternoon by his adviser - was limited to extolling the virtues of the Government's science policy. The audience - including a row of American political science students, without whom CEA supremo (and their professor) Demitri Coryton cannot move these days - sat politely.

Then came an unexpected and somewhat intemperate attack on Labour's extremist education policy. "We know every blade of grass in the middle ground," continued Mr Hunt, going on to praise Gillian Shephard. Parts of the audience came to life and began nudging each other.

As later explained to Carborundum by a Conservative conspirator, this should be read as nothing less than an attack on the "bastards" of the Tory Right, not the Labour Left. Mr Hunt and Mrs Shephard are two of the Cabinet's beleaguered moderates who that day had been involved in the pitched battle over Post Office privatisation, while the sainted Gillian has also been fairly open about her desire to snatch back educational policy from the "lunatic Right".

The CEA is cock-a-hoop about its coup and apparent new status. Just one small problem. Mrs Shephard's political adviser apparently counts the inoffensive Mr Coryton as a member of the lunatic Right - a concept which causes helpless giggles in all who hear it.

A quietly embarrassing communication has been slipping out from the DFE, correcting last year's Education (Grant-Maintained Schools) (Initial Governing Instruments) (obviously hurriedly compiled) Regulations 1993.

It gives 15 corrections for 28 pages of document, which must be some sort of record. Although many of them are simple typographical mistakes, at least a couple are not. Spellings such as "immediateley" (substitute "immediately") would surely lead to the penalising of an exam candidate, quite apart from the inclusion of words such as "govenring" (something to do with the occult?) and "asigned".

More embarrassing still, the corrections add a new howler, "governer" (sic). And sic is what it makes the correspondent who sent in this gem. "Just imagine what would happen if an employer saw this in a letter of application," he moans.

Scope - for people with cerebral palsy" (which is to say The Spastics Society in new guise) is attention-seeking with a shocking new campaign. "Pillock; Nerd; Spastic; Moron - spot the odd one out", a full-page advertisement invites in massive type. "If you didn't," it continues, "maybe now you can appreciate why The Spastics Society has changed its name."

Carborundum is more obtuse than most and imagined that Pillock, Spastic, and Moron were all medical or, at least, biological terms. We plumped for Nerd. But this, apparently, is not the right answer.

"You think too hard," said Scope in explanation. A burden that Carborundum will just have to bear.

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