Sunday, 8 July 2007

Better than bog standard

I am looking forward to reading Alastair Campbell's diaries. Alastair did an awful lot to help Labour win at least two of its three election victories. I was a member of the Mountfield group that he established in 1997 to drag government press offices into the 24-7 world of the late 20th century, introducing them rather late in the day to the concept of communication.

But, in today's Sunday Times, Lesley White reports: "The more cross and exasperated Campbell became about journalists, the more he deflected attention from the message. Blair became concerned. “He said, ‘The trouble is that the press are now more interested in you than in what you are saying’.” An example, he says, is his “bog-standard comprehensive” gaffe at the time of the 2001 education white paper [sic]. “Tony had said that before you know . . . It was his phrase. When he said it publicly no one had picked it up.” "

This may well have been a Tony Blair phrase, though I never heard him use it. But, ironically, the one person who uttered it most in my presence for months before the Green Paper was Peter Hyman, then a strategy adviser in no. 10 who has been reborn as a first-class history teacher in one of the country's best comprehensives. I always argued strongly against its use - and knew that David Blunkett, for whom I then worked, would have hated it, as he made clear after its use - because it was never true to say that most comprehensives were 'bog-standard'. Indeed all the academies subsequently established and most specialist schools are comprehensives (even if their intake could often be better balanced). And one of Labour's biggest achievements has been to increase the number of comprehensives where more than 70% of young people get five good GCSEs from 83 in 1997 to 604 last year. I was furious when Alastair used the phrase in lobby because I felt it undermined a strong Green Paper in schools. I'm sure I wasn't alone: I can't believe (Alastair's partner) Fiona Millar, who has since become a doughty defender of a very narrow view of comprehensive education was any more enthusiastic.

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