Bid for new office of state

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Labour should raise the status of the Secretary of State for Education by moving him or her into No.9 Downing Street, one of the party's senior policy advisers suggested yesterday.

Professor Michael Barber, dean of new initiatives at London University's Institute of Education, said in his inaugural lecture that Tony Blair must make education a great office of state in order to fulfil his party conference promise that his priorities would be "education, education and education."

The new Education Secretary should be expected to stay in post for the entire Parliament and might be placed second after the Prime Minister and before the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the press release announcing a new Cabinet, Professor Barber said.

"Perhaps like the Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Lifelong Learning should have a house next door to No.10. Who lives at No.9?" he asked.

On being moved to the Department of Education from Environment in 1986, Kenneth Baker remarked that it was "like moving from the manager's job at Arsenal to Charlton. You cross the river and move down two divisions."

Though most of us would see any move away from Arsenal as promotion, Professor Barber commented, Mr Baker clearly had a different view.

Under Labour, he said, there should be an end to the feuding which had bedevilled the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary since the time of Butler and Churchill.

Callaghan had rowed with Shirley Williams over his Ruskin speech on standards: the Education Department was so angry that it leaked the speech to the press.

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