Word of Mouth

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The Independent Online
Brave but bad

When Sir Peter Lely, the 17th-century painter, trotted round to Oliver Cromwell's joint to do his portrait, the great man urged him: "Use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all, but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it." Nothing vain about Olly. Now, to mark the 400th anniversary of Cromwell's birth, Cambridge University is launching a remarkable exhibition called "A brave, bad man". From next Tuesday until 9 October, with a one-week break in September, the public may see many treasures of the period, including the admissions register from Sidney Sussex College - the only record of the Lord Protector's time in Cambridge.

There are rare documents signed by him towards the end of his life and there's the draft for a poster advertising the display of poor old Cromwell's head in the 1790s. Was he really such a "brave, bad man"? According to curator Mark Nicholls, the title is deliberately ambiguous. "History has yet to deliver a conclusive verdict on Cromwell."

Boyson's Blunkett

Where can David Blunkett have gone wrong? He was treated to a bucketful of praise at the weekend by none other than Dr Sir Rhodes Boyson, not best-known for his leftist leanings. Sir Rhodes, Minister of Higher Education under Maggie Thatcher, described the Education Secretary as an "honest, genuine man who has integrity and courage". He even welcomed Blunkett's policies as "a great step forward in the Labour party's educational thinking". The occasion was Boyson's second conference of the reincarnated National Committee for Educational Standards.

But not all was sweetness and light. Mr Blunkett, Rhodes said, remained trapped in Labour's non-selective secondary school policies, which were a "disaster in many downtown areas". Rich parents buy homes in "good property areas" where comprehensives provide high academic standards. Labour's plan to destroy the last 164 grammar schools would make matters worse.