Heseltine hails the humble Chancellor

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The Independent Online
Kenneth Clarke yesterday was hailed as a "man of the people" by Michael Heseltine after the Tories were embarrassed to discover that he was not a grammar school boy after all.

John Major opened the first salvo in the war of the "old school ties" in his address to the Conservative Party conference on Friday when he suggested that he had come from more humble beginnings than Tony Blair, the Labour leader.

"New Labour - Old School Tie," said Mr Major. The inverted snobbery is part of the Tories' strategy of presenting Mr Major as "honest John" against "Phoney Tony". The Chancellor was presented by Mr Major as a grammar-school boy, unlike the privately educated Mr Blair.

Labour's deputy leader, John Prescott, an old boy of a secondary school in Ellesmere Port, Merseyside, pointed out that Mr Clarke went on a scholarship to Nottingham High, the city's top independent school, and was soon on a fast track to Cambridge University.

Mr Prescott said only three of the 23-strong Cabinet had put their children in state schools.

Mr Heseltine (Shrewsbury, Pembroke College, Oxford) said on BBC Television's Breakfast with Frost that Mr Clarke, strictly speaking, may not be a grammar school boy - "but he is a man of the people".

Peter Mandelson, the head of Labour's election campaign, on the same programme apologised for not wearing his old school tie from a north London comprehensive.

The Tory attack on Mr Blair has angered the Labour leader, who said on GMTV that he did not want to fight the general election "in the gutter".

Tory strategists believe their plan, to highlight Mr Blair's background as the son of a Tory, who went to Fettes College, Edinburgh, is legitimate. David Davies, a Foreign Office minister, said: "They have been attacking John Major non-stop for six years in the most brutal way and then they whinge like this. It nothing but hypocrisy."

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