Timely confirmation of minister's humanity

14th March 2003 at 00:00
MOST parents would heave a sigh of relief if the worst that could be said of their teenage son's behaviour was that he had sworn in school.

A lesson in manners and an apology would sort things out. A day's suspension from school would certainly drive home the message.

But when 16-year-old Christopher Clarke was suspended for reportedly calling an assistant caretaker (apparently nicknamed "Mouse Man" by pupils) "a fucking idiot" for confiscating his football, it merited almost as much space in Saturday's Sun and Mirror as war in Iraq.

The Mail, happy to share a Labour minister's embarrassment, devoted most of page five to the story, with the lad's dad (Education Secretary Charles Clarke) superimposed on the Norwich technology college where it all happened.

By contrast, the broadsheets covered it all more succinctly. But Radio 4's Today programme invited Carol Thatcher to explain how her chums berated her mum as education secretary.

The story overshadowed a TES report that school behaviour was improving.

Indeed, the tabloids' "legitimate public interest" defence was a reminder that Mr Clarke "repeatedly stressed the importance of discipline is school".

But as embarrassing offspring go, this rated rather lower than Euan Blair being left the worse for drink in Leicester Square or Will Straw being trapped by a Mirror reporter into selling cannabis.

For his part, Mr Clarke sensibly confirmed the incident and left matters to the school. Classmates assured us that Chris is "a really nice bloke". And neighbours called the Clarkes "normal parents".

Whatever the initial embarrassment, such incidents also remind us that ministers are human - and their children get no special favours. Which must be a good thing with cynicism about politicians so high.

As the Sun's leader writer put it, after praising the Education Secretary's frankness: "The incident is something millions of parents have been through."

Conor Ryan was special adviser to former education secretary David Blunkett, 1997-2001

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