Iain should be grateful to Edwina

11th October 2002 at 01:00
With Jeffrey Archer and Edwina Currie hogging the limelight, the Tories were desperate to shift the media focus from personalities to issues at this week's conference. They hoped to do it with new scholarships worth pound;5,000 enabling parents to remove children from failing schools and spend this "state funding" elsewhere.

The policy was presented as something new. But it sounded more like something old, something borrowed or something blue according to whom you listened to.

On Sky's Sunday with Adam Boulton, Tory chairman Theresa May made it sound like a mix between assisted places and her ill-fated "free schools" policy . Education spokesman Damian Green told BBC Radio 4's Today that "new people" would set up schools: "churches, voluntary groups, parents themselves and conceivably private companies". The policy was borrowed from New Labour, in other words.

But Iain Duncan Smith, as leader, is less worried than his education spokesman about causing staffroom uproar. On BBC1's Breakfast with Frost he was determined to put his true blue stamp on the idea, when he insisted parents would be the prime movers in establishing new schools. The Daily Mail translated this as: "I'll pick up where Maggie left off."

However, the Tories should have been grateful for the distracting diaries. Otherwise more people might have noticed that their pound;5,000 average funding per pupil includes the cost of educating children with special needs and administering the whole system. What's more, no allowance is made for the costs of building new schools. If the Tories are serious, they must get such details right as well as winning headlines.

Conor Ryan was special adviser to David Blunkett from 1997 to 2001

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