28th April 2000 at 01:00
NEVER let it be said that Doug McAvoy indulges in gamesmanship to avoid uncomfortable debates getting too close to a vote.

But delegates at this year's NUT conference couldn't help raising an eyebrow at the ever-growing list of guest speakers. Harrogate played host to, among others, Theresa May, Phil Willis and TUC general secretary John Monks, not to mention Estelle Morris.

Isn't this all designed to eat into valuable debating time, members asked - particularly on Monday afternoon when the general secretary of the Ethiopian Teachers' Association had them listening in painfully respectful silence when all they really wanted was to hear the result of the strike vote or shout a Doug.

Fast becoming a regular turn is Local Government Association education chair Graham Lane, who, surprise surprise, was slotted into Sunday as the strike debate started.

In the end, it hardly needed him to delay that particular item, the Lefties being more than able to do that themselves. But he was still greeted by a half-hearted walk-out.

Graham knows his duty: this year's conference clashed with his 13th wedding anniversary but he still made it to Harrogate.

But the ever-obliging Mr Lane was unable to meet one demand that was placed on him. When he asked how long he should speak for, the response apparently came:

"Can you manage three hours?"

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