Too much changed, too quickly

3rd October 1997 at 01:00
Defeat is being blamed on the selection muddle as Tories prepare for next week's party conference. Jeremy Sutcliffe reports

Theresa May is one of an endangered species. Youngish, female, with a professional career in banking behind her, she is just the sort of person a Tory party bent on modernisation would want. As the incumbent of a safe seat (Maidenhead), she is also likely to be in Parliament for many years. If anyone can speak for the party's future, it is surely her.

Having cut her political teeth as chair of education in the London borough of Merton in the late 1980s, she is one of just two Tory MPS to sit on the House of Commons Education and Employment Select Committee.

A loyalist, she believes the party's education policies were the right ones but that serious mistakes were made in trying to implement too many changes too fast. She believes the party must now start to listen to and consult those with a stake in education - not just parents, but "people at the sharp end", like teachers.

One of the party's biggest mistakes was to introduce the national curriculum without proper consultation, she says.

"We had to row back from our initial policies. It was the constant change teachers did not like. In policy terms, it's important not just to have the good idea but to spend time on the practical implementation of those policies and to make sure you get it right.

"We have moved from a position where 'teachers know best' to one of teachers working in partnership with parents. We have opened that up and that is right. But I think it's incumbent on us as politicians to listen to people's views and talk about it and to explain things so that we can take people along with us rather more than perhaps we have done in the past."

On the election campaign itself, she says: "We gave the impression that we weren't putting much interest in education. We didn't really connect with people in terms of projecting what we had done."

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