Jim Callaghan, the only man in Britain who can remember what it was like to be a Labour Prime Minister, has warned Tony Blair that if education is to be the passion of a new Labour government, it will be a dauntingly expensive one.
Lord Callaghan's lecture on Tuesday at the London Institute of Education, sponsored by The TES, was given on the 20th anniversary of his landmark Ruskin speech which launched the "great debate" on education and opened the secret professional garden to the uncomfortable glare of public scrutiny.
Most of the speech adroitly combined a tactful endorsement of current Labour policy with deeply held personal convictions, but the sting came at the end. "I do not blame Gordon Brown for refusing to allow the Conservative Party and the media to pin him in a corner on tax increases," Lord Callaghan said, "but he will be in no doubt that a big bill must be paid if Britain's children are to have the high level of education and training that will be needed in the 21st century."
Lord Callaghan, now 84, reminded the audience that his own interest in education reform had been engulfed and frustrated by the economic crises of the late 1970s. The next Labour government should implement its educational plans "in instalments", beginning with universal nursery schooling.
He also backed a general teaching council for England to "enlist the teachers as full partners".