Chalk Talk: The fight to strengthen local government's role in education


The trouble with Graham Lane was, as the former local politician revealed to Newsnight's presenter Jeremy Paxman on BBC 2 in the mid-1990s, that he was always rather too forthcoming.

Lane, who was chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities' education committee at the time, was being grilled by Paxman over the Ridings School in Calderdale – where teachers were threatening to go on strike unless up to 60 troublemakers at the school were expelled.

As Lane reveals in his recently published book, How Different Governments Have Weakened Local Government and Democracy, he surprised Paxman during the interview by revealing that he had visited the school and fully supported the action taken by the local authority to resolve the situation – in Paxman's eyes, the authority was supposed to be the bad guy.

Following the interview, Lane added: "My problem, unlike some politicians, was that I tended to answer the question put to me rather than answering a completely different one on which... [I] had been well briefed."

That directness was a trait that has marked Lane's career as the last local politician to have influence over the way the future of education was shaped.

Despite his book's title, it provides an interesting insight into the power struggles of the past two decades in education, coming to the conclusion that there may have to be a U-turn in the way policies have consistently weakened local government involvement in education. Trying to oversee 4,000 academies from the centre is too tall an order, he argues.

Lane was an adviser to Tony Blair's Labour government during the 1990s and was instrumental in getting the party to back education maintenance allowances for 16 to 19-year-olds to help them afford staying on at school – a policy subsequently axed by the Coalition Government.

Lane would not take "no" for an answer as the policy went through the decision-making process. He was a boxer in his younger days. I bet he always got right back into the fight when knocked down, just as he will continue arguing his case for education to anyone who will listen – even Paxman.