Much of the fun and games of politics is down to the politicians themselves. Here, speaking largely in their own words, are the stars of the past 18 years. Noble aspirations, wild predictions and ignominious U-turns have been visited equally on both sides, with painful honesty dwindling as spin-doctors have increasingly exerted iron control. There has been one major difference: the Conservatives, being in power, can claim their policies have borne fruit. At best, most Labour education spokespeople can only claim to have had their ideas stolen by the Conservatives.
Mark Carlisle, 1978-82. Apparently never in Mrs Thatcher's good books but was never quite sure why.
"Last century it may have been the accepted wisdom that the independent schools aimed to turn out the leaders of society and the maintained schools the followers. That sort of philosophy is not relevant in the Britain of today. " October 1980.
Sir Keith Joseph, 1982-1986. Thinker, arch-monetarist, a Thatcherite before Mrs Thatcher. Widely known as the Mad Monk.
"There is no link between the quality of education and spending policy - within limits." October 1981.
"Oh, I'm a bogeyman. There are one or two apprentice bogeymen who are doing rather well. That fellow Norman Tebbit, for example." 1983.
Kenneth Baker, May 86-July 1989. The TES reports that he wants civil servants' briefings to be of one paragraph with no sentence of more than three lines. The main points should be highlighted. The Department of Education and Science does not issue highlighting pens.
"Parents do not want teachers forcing what is called 'positive images for gays' on innocent children. They want traditional values and a framework of discipline." February 1987.
"I do not intend to rush the introduction of the national curriculum. I shall ensure that every step towards it is sure-footed." January 1988.
John MacGregor, July 1989-November 1990. On the curriculum, March 1990: "I hope it will become clear that we are sticking to the timetable, we are meeting the legitimate worries about overload, about over-assessment, about difficulties on the 14-16 age group and how you get the whole of that quart into a curriculum pint pot."
"It is the one major regret of my political life that I did not stay at education longer."
Kenneth Clarke: 1990-1992. Arrives fresh from bashing the health service into shape, much to teachers' alarm. Opined that child-centred education was failing to deliver in many cases and "at its weakest there is a lot of the sticking together of egg boxes and playing in the sand".
"Bringing back the 11-plus and going back to grammar schools and going back to the 1944 Act I think is ridiculous and totally impractical."
On the proposed new role of the chief inspector under the Office for Standards in Education: "His reports will be as critical of the work of legislators and policymakers as was the advice tendered during Eric Bolton's tenure as senior chief inspector."
John Patten, 1992-94: Arrives and promptly goes into purdah to consider his new education Bill. Does put pen to paper to write a Spectator piece advocating fear of hellfire as being good for children.
"With 2020 hindsight one of the best places to start education reforms would have been in teacher training." April 1993 October 1993: Promises to "eat my academic hat, garnished" if fewer than 2,000 schools had opted out by the time of the next election. (There are 1,158).
Gillian Shephard: 1994 - "I've got a great variety of things I want to do but legislation, I think, is out."
"It costs the same to teach a good lesson as a bad lesson." September 1996.
"There is no clear correlation between class size and quality and rising standards." November 1995.
Neil Kinnock: spokesman 1979-83. Described in The TES as "the boy wonder from Bedwellty". Describes Assisted Places Scheme as "a larceny of talent" and "the ultimate confession of Tory belief in the class system". December 1979. "Education is about the emancipation of working people and their children. It must be the Labour party that cares about standards."
On a core curriculum in 1980: "There's an element of Napoleon in me. I'd like to look at my watch and say 'Every infant in the land is doing tables at this moment'."
Giles Radice:1983-87. Described, variously as "hapless", "a Camden Town intellectual," and "a bright aggressive Healeyite right-winger."
On his public school background; "I'm going to use Winchester aggressively. It entitles me to speak with authority about private school education. Anything I say cannot be called envy." November 1983.
Jack Straw, 1987-1992. Called a YAK; Young Ambitious Kinnockite and a "keenie" by Inner London Education Authority friend. Apparently, this roughly translates as a man who likes a good scrap. Admits to being a "pushy parent".
Admitting that Labour cannot come up with a big idea to match the market and parental choice: "I don't believe there's a Holy Grail waiting to be discovered."
"This government, with one failed system of testing after another, experiments with other people's children." Oct 1991.
Ann Taylor, 1992-1994. A "paid- up member of the book is always better brigade", she nevertheless found herself spearheading the party's technology in schools drive. She fell foul of the war between modernisers and traditionalists.
"I don't feel particularly sympathetic to the problems of the private sector. I am not looking for ways of making their life easier. Helping them survive does not feature on my list of priorities. I am basically pretty unsympathetic." September 1992.
David Blunkett October 94 -: "It is absolutely vital that we get away from the culture of blame and short-termism." June 1995.
"In general I am left-wing and radical on economic policy but conservative on social matters. This is the very reverse of the attitudes and actions of the Labour party throughout the Eighties and early Nineties." September 1995.