6th March 1998 at 00:00
Socialism and solicitors' letters do not generally make happy bedfellows. And with the arrival of the latter amid the internecine strife currently known as the Socialist Educational Association, the only sure thing is that civil war is about to ensue.

So cad is the situation, that, according to general secretary Graham Lane: "Steve Byers, the school standards minister, is the vice-president and he has been told to stay away from meetings at the moment by Downing Street because they don't want any bad publicity."

He suggested that the current reputation of the organisation may also explain why Prime Minister Tony "education, education, education" Blair has twice not replied to invitation to join, although his predecessor John Smith was a member, as are David Blunkett, Margaret Beckett, Gordon Brown and David Clark. A third of the cabinet are members -- if they've renewed their subs, that is according to Mr Lane a large proportion have not done so because of all the fighting.

So what, you ask, is going on?

The SEA has for months been at loggerheads for months over the future direction of the Labour-affiliated organisation. Now a more arcane organisational row has erupted. General secretary Graham Lane and supporters say that chair Max Morris can no longer run national executive committee meetings since it carried a vote of no confidence against him.

In January, one meeting carried on for four hours after it had been closed by Mr Morris who left with seven supporters. The remaining 21 NEC members and a Labour party observer decided the committee should resign en masse and elections be held ASAP.

Mr Morris, meanwhile, did not recognise anything which had happened after the meeting was closed and has taken advice from a solicitor in the Society of Labour Lawyers - given in a personal capacity - which warns Mr Lane that the SEA's affairs are being conducted in "a wholly unconstitutional manner" and if he does not give immediate undertakings (too complicated to go into here) he is suspended.

Ironically, the pair agree on one thing: that elections should be held for a new committee. "I want the bloody elections more than anybody else: I want to go on holiday," Mr Morris explains. Unfortunately he objects to Mr Lane's attempts to speed them up by a month or so on the grounds that it is against the constitution.

Mr Lane says a new executive is needed as quickly as possible and that the row risks permanent damage to the once-venerable organisation. Mr Morris, meanwhile, has sent out a letter intended for all members in an attempt to redress what he calls the "one-sided and tendentious" accounts of the disputes in the SEA newsletter. The task of ensuring it reached its intended audience, however, was made not easier - according to Mr Morris -- by Mr Lane's refusal to give him the membership list.

Mr Lane counters that he is bound by the data protection act.

The end, at least, in sight for this chapter of the socialist soap opera: wild horses could not drag' either protagonist into standing for re-election. But it is anybody's guess what will happen before the final ballot paper is counted -- or after.

Inscrutability is a necessary talent for politicians, but a tough one to keep up all the time. Carborundum was therefore deeply impressed by the demeanour of Education Secretary David Blunkett, who last week found himself called upon to present a plaque to the best sponsor in the City Technology Trust.

No problem with any of that - except the sponsor in question was Lord Philip Harris, the carpet king ennobled by the Conservatives for services to the party.

It was Lord Harris of Peckham a man given to referring to Harris CTC in south London as "my school" - who is credited with saving the Tories from financial ruin two years ago.

An anonymous Tory spokesman quoted at the time credited the Carpetright chain founder's "financial genius" with reducing the party's overdraft by some pound;15 million. Did Mr Blunkett know about his next comment? "The closer Tony Blair looks like getting to the gates of Downing Street the easier it is to prise money from our old supporters. Labour still frightens the business community."

A delightful story arrives courtesy of the newsletter of the Bradford Bobcats League Team, a lively little Wiltshire publication which appears to chronicle a youth football side's exploits. It includes the following, billed as a true story.

"I was carrying a bag of footballs back to the shed the other day when a teacher (name of school omitted to protect the innocentdaft) came up to me and said 'If I guess how many balls are in that bag, will you let me have one?'

"'I said, if you guess how many there are, you can have them both!'

"'She thought a while and said. 'Four'.

"Makes you think. doesn't it?"

Our anonymous correspondent has added: "Is maths a problem in our primary schools?" Lack of logical thought might be a more glaring difficulty.


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