Tories play the arson card

1st June 2001 at 01:00
BY this time next week it will all be over. Thank goodness. But who will get the top education job?

Unless there's a shock result, the Sun exclusively reveals it will be "little-known" Estelle Morris, the Schools Standards Minister, "a former teacher who left school after failing her A-levels".

"A senior Downing Street figure" told the Sun: "Estelle has emerged as a real star. The PM has been impressed by her toughness. She is completely on top of her brief."

The paper adds it will be a blow to Stephen Byers who had his eye on the post. (See below) The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was not the only one to get clobbered.William Hague's old teacher told the Tory Leader that he had produced an unworkable education policy.

Robert Godber, head of Wath-upon-Dearne comprehensive near Rotherham, taught Mr Hague A-level politics in the 1970s. He said he was not happy with the party's free-schools agenda.

Mr Godber came to that conclusion despite, he says, being "instinctively right of centre".

Mr Hague also came under fire for the controversial election broadcast "What are your children learning under Labour?" which portrayed schools as sinister places full of arsonists, graffiti vandals and drug dealers. The children are not to blame,he explained to the press - the Government is to blame for teacher shortages that result in poor discipline and low standards.

oug McAvoy wasn't convinced. Neither was Mr Godber, who told The Times:

"I'm sure William assumes I will be voting for him, but I'm not such a political animal as I used to be."

However, pupils at Fairfield Girls' High in Manchester were more impressed with Mr Hague. Unlike Tony Blair and his Cabinet colleagues using schools as a backdrop to launch any old initiative, Mr Hague made a rare appearance at the chalk face shortly after the broadcast. The fifth-formers were too polite to mention the broadcast. Instead they grilled him on Europe, tax, voting reform and his favourite figure from the past. Another William, apparently: Pitt the Younger. "He was leader of the Conservative Party when he was 24, Prime Minister for 18 years and led the country through the beginnings of the war against Napoleon. He really is a towering figure in history." (Does that explain Mr Hague's anti-Europe views?) "I had heard that not a lot of people liked William Hague, but I think he's nice," said Eve Craig-Middlehurst, aged 15.

A shame for him that she's too young to vote, because the "dial group", a focus group of floating voters, was highly critical of his election broadcasts. "Horrific", "too negative" and "playing on people's worst fears" were some of the comments. "They've lost the election with this type of stuff," said one.

Only a week to go before we find out.

Diane Spencer

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