Patriot at the gates of power

25th May 2001 at 01:00
Despite a spot of bother with local heads, former GM school supremo Pauline Latham is bullish about winning back leafy Broxtowe for the Tories, writes Nic Barnard

IN A suburban idyll overlooking the Trent Valley, as mums push their prams and pensioners tend the gardens of modest detached homes, a way of life is under threat. Even if it doesn't look like it.

"Nobody wants to teach about English history. It's our very roots, our very foundation. Our way of life is being eroded."

Pauline Latham, Conservative candidate for Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire, listens sympathetically as the retired police detective ("No names!") takes a break from spraying his plants to rage at the threat to everything he holds dear.

She's keen to play the patriotic card herself, raising the issue of the pesky Euro even with young mums who seem indifferent or undecided.

In her office in Winston Churchill House is a letter for anyone for whom education is an issue. The message is simple: an "extra" pound;540 per pupil for every school.

As the one-time chair of the Grant-maintained Schools Advisory Committee and later the Foundation and Voluntary Aided Schools Association, she knows perhaps more than anyone how her party's "free schools" policy - effectively abolishing education authorities and giving heads autonomy over admissions, staff salaries and budgets - might work. But there's no need to go into that on the doorstep.

Pauline is wearing her best lemon yellow jacket to climb the hills. With the blue rosette it carefully matches the colours of the leaflets she prods through lettrboxes.

"We can win it back," says Pauline. "The hostility isn't there on the doorstep any more." The posters are up in the windows and party workers are out in force again. Many let their membership lapse under Major.

Like so many seats, Broxtowe had been Tory since time immemorial. It's now held by Labour's Nick Palmer, with a 5,575 majority.

Pauline, a Derbyshire councillor, was born here and is quick to play up her local roots. Look, there's the church where she was married and where her son Ben will marry in the autumn. She has always relished a challenge. "I've lost three pounds, so far," she says, striding up another drive. Save the pound, lose some pounds.

Education brought her into politics, fighting to save her son's sixth form. It is ironic then that her biggest set-back in the campaign has been a little local difficulty with schools.

Nottinghamshire council has told heads that canvassers are not allowed on school premises following a complaint from one head about Pauline. Another complained his photo was used in a leaflet without permission.

"They'd let Tony Blair into their schools if he flew in" mutters one of Pauline's foot soldiers.

Heads are also proving infuriatingly reluctant to back the "free schools" but Pauline remains convinced that it is a winner. If William Hague gets in, he'd be advised to give her a job.

She's at the school gates twice a day to give leaflets out to parents, but not engaging in too much debate - that's for the doorsteps. There, schools take second place to the most emotive issue: Europe.

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