PM's passion fails to excite media

1st October 2004 at 01:00
Labour leaders wanted to avoid mentioning The War. So education almost became the party's top priority again, although nobody noticed.

Last week's TES poll suggested that parents believe the Prime Minister's mind is elsewhere. And Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, told Labour Today, the party magazine, that education was merely "a key priority".

But if education was no longer top priority, it was at least the PM's primary passion (has anyone told Cherie?).

Mr Blair assured the Observer: "education to me remains the absolute, number one, passion." By Sunday morning's Breakfast with Frost, this love affair involved the Cabinet. "I still think the biggest single passion for the Government has got to be education," he declared.

In practice, this meant putting three of Labour's 10 third-term priorities in Mr Clarke's hands: more vocational education, better secondary schools and universal childcare.

Plans for permanent pupil detention from eight till six - or "wrap-around childcare" as we must now call it - were pre-spun to Saturday's papers.

("Childcare for all is Blair's conference rallying call" - The Guardian).

Wednesday's papers dutifully reported bits of "Tony's Top 10" (The Mirror) such as "Heads will get new powers to boot out yobs" (The Sun). But they disagreed about earlier pledges. The pledge to reduce infant class sizes to 30 or below had "failed in every school" declared the Mail. But, "pledge met for most classrooms," insisted the Independent.

The result was that Mr Clarke was squeezed out of Wednesday's breakfast broadcasts by David Blunkett's crime crackdown. And only the little-watched BBC Parliament channel covered his speech live, something usually covered on terrestrial television.

BBC2's "highlights" omitted Mr Clarke's list of the Government's achievements, substituting critical comment from Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector, and Fiona Millar, the ex-Downing Street aide, while Andrew Neil, the presenter, engaged David Miliband, the school standards minister, in his annual quest for a definition of selection by aptitude.

At least, BBC lunchtime news tried to explain wrap-around childcare, but ITV ignored it. For most, though, Labour's great passion remained a private affair.

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