Clarke at sea over Harrogate

The man in charge of England's schools and colleges yesterday betrayed a blind spot for the country's geography.

Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, took a swipe in the Commons at an MP for "lounging" on the beach at Harrogate. Although it boasts a promenade and even a pierhead, the genteel North Yorkshire spa town is at least 60 miles from the nearest stretch of coast.

Mr Clarke's blunder came as Harrogate's Liberal Democrat MP, Phil Willis, taunted him over teachers being made redundant while he lounged on Europe's beaches. The Minister replied: "Perhaps I could visit you in Harrogate and lounge on that beach this summer."

Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, fell into the same trap last year. Ridiculing Tory policy after the party had held a weekend conference in the town, she said: "It must be all that seaside air in Harrogate."

The town, visited by 2.8 million holidaymakers and business people last year year, has become weary with the frequency that such mistakes are made.

A council spokeswoman said: "I've been asked myself where the sea is."

Mike Gardner, the council leader, said there were 88 springs beneath the town centre's Valley Gardens. "We've got a lot of water, but it's all underground," he said.

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