MANCHESTER: I've drawn the short straw again: despatched to the Tory party conference to eavesdrop on conversations about education. This turns out to be impossible, as the Conservatives are just "having conversations with ourselves" and security is really tight. They've got iris-recognition checkpoints at all tapas bars within a mile of the Midland Hotel. Never mind. I hook up with Bryony Stamp, the Tory thinktanker I'm secretly collaborating with. We're hoping to secure a little blue sky niche in the coming Age of Gove. We think our best bet is to rebrand New Academies, which sound a bit "sequelly". Encouraging noises from Team Gove when Bryony plants the idea of calling them Waitrose Organic Learning Farms. They love the idea of Operation WOLF. Disturbingly, one aide said it had "a lovely black leather, Gothic feel". Brrr.
TESTICULATION: Conference buzzwords: discipline, responsibility, opportunity and Balls. The fringe debate is mostly about which slogan they want on campaign badges. It's between Nuts To Balls and the more in-your-face Balls Out! I think maybe they're trying a bit too hard to win over young people.
MR CHIPS: A lot of IT consultants are here to lobby delegates. They include my erstwhile colleague Max, who's now with a PFI literacy provider. These are very exciting times, he smirks. The automated marking of exam essays by genial contracted-out "robots" will make life a lot easier. Especially for PFI literacy providers. Max's analogy for our creaking education system: it's not fit for purpose because the artificial intelligence on which exams are based is hopelessly outdated, like a 1980s Amstrad with no hard drive. All necessary data is loaded on to "floppy kids" inserted into the exam machine. Once the data has been transferred all memory is erased, to make way for the next lot of revision. Max is working on a secret project that would automate exams AND upgrade pupils by implanting a neurological link to the internet in their brains. The future teacher's role would be more pastoral: herding flocks of human dongles from room to room, supervising grazing etc.
FAWNING: Huge swarm of paparazzi in Deansgate. Who on earth's at the centre of this media nebulus? Oh, wow. So Tony Blair's FINALLY been goaded into attending a party political conference. I must say he's looking pretty trim. Just like the Bambi of old but even spindlier, more like a veal ... oh wait. It's The Gove. His three priorities, he tells the press, are Education, Sponsorship and Education.
PRETTY VACANT: Bryony reports from a special committee set up to reform building regulations. This would allow Learning Farms to be set up in buildings surplus to society's requirements. I'm betting these will include Woolworths stores, Methodist churches, and state schools. Inchworm.