Hang Ups

13th October 1995 at 01:00
By the time this is published I will have been "a virtual delegate" at all the party conferences. I don't actually go to them. Instead, I sit at home and let the conferences come to me, courtesy of the Internet. Of course, I miss out on the opportunity to rub shoulders with the parties' faithful but that's not the only advantage. The Internet gives me, without having to suffer the ritual of standing ovations or waving an Union Jack, the complete text of every major speech - and even Major's speech.

"What's the use of that?" I hear you heckle. Well, for one thing, having the speeches on screen enables you to perform them karaoke-style: John Prescott in the style of Winston Churchill, Robin Cook as Cilla Black.

There's another advantage in having the complete text one hinted at by Chris Smith, Labour's shadow National Heritage Secretary. In his address to Conference (largely ignored in the media) he promised a new kind of democracy in which new technology would give us all access to the policy makers. There would be "public information points in high streets and shopping centres". As an example of how they might be used, he said that people might choose to dial up the text of Hansard. This might not be the most exciting facility offered by fibre optics but, as I've discovered since I've been studying these conference speeches, it's one to which we should be entitled. There's a world of difference between being able, on the one hand, to read in full what the politicians actually say and, on the other, being stuck with what the news media's selection of soundbites and quotes.

Once it is on your hard disc, you can also analyse a speech using the usual word processing tools. You will find, for example, that Mr Blair's messianic address contained the word "new" no fewer than 61 times and "young" 19 times. However, don't waste time running it through a style checker. I gave up when mine had signalled that "This is not a complete sentence", five times in the first 170 words and that was before he started sizzling at his staccato best: "The party renewed. The country reborn. New Labour. New Britain."

He might not be able to promise full employment but if it's full stops you want, he's your man. He hasn't only got rid of Clause Four. He has banished clauses. Entirely. New Labour, new grammar. It's the style of the advertising copywriter and IT enthusiasts in schools certainly won't object as Mr Blair was selling something they're keen to see sold.

Of course, they wouldn't have found anything new in his commitment to exploiting the educational potential of the information superhighway. Education Secretary, Gillian Shephard, had said more or less the same thing at the BETT Show in Olympia last January and spelt it out in the consultative document, Superhighways for Education, which only succeeded in stirring up a storm of indifference. How then was Mr Blair able to make it all sound so desirable?

It's not simply presentation. It's got more to do with the monumental cock-ups the Conservatives have made in every other aspect of educational policy. If they say that the information superhighway will be good for schools, we naturally conclude that there must be something wrong with it. Of course, maybe there is. Tony Blair and Chris Smith base their dreams for the future on the unchallenged assumption that broadband technology cannot but improve the quality of education. There is no way of knowing that it will. The whole project, which will make huge demands on the education budget, could prove to be a well-intentioned but collosal mistake.

Of course, no one in the tired world of education or in the euphoric world of the Labour Party will dare to point this out. New Labour. New Britain. New emperor's suit of clothes.

The conferences are at: http:www.labour.org.uk http:www.conservative-party.org.uk http:www.libdems.org.uk

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