The Sketch: Minister of flagellation and spiky garters

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The Independent Online

And so to the subject of discipline in schools. How refreshing, in this day and age, to have an Education Secretary believing in corporal punishment. At any rate, we have to assume she believes in corporal punishment. Or, strictly speaking (and let's be strict, in the circumstances) we don't have to assume it, we just want to assume it.

Reports tell us that Ruth Kelly is a member of Opus Dei. This is a religious sect which recommends regular use of "the discipline" (an instrument of flagellation applied to the back or, er, the buttocks), and of the cilice (a sort of garter inset with tiny spikes that bite into the upper thigh like sharp little teeth, or thorns, and for two hours every day it ... they ... she ... are you still here? I drifted off for a moment). So, when a backbencher welcomes Ms Kelly "to her post" it was hard for the filthy-minded among us not to think of whipping posts - especially as he used the words "richly deserved", a phrase much in vogue with older flagellation fans in schools very like the one Ruth Kelly herself attended.

Anyway: discipline in schools? Ms Kelly is for it. Though not for "the discipline" in schools, as that's against the law. Unless the pious little blighters are junior members of her sect and can be told to flog themselves. I don't know if it's characteristic of the modern religious temperament, but she's for discipline and against bullying, and takes a very welcoming attitude to the most thundering banalities we've ever heard in Parliament.

"Looking at what parents want, right up there at the top, they want things for their teenagers to do!" That's what her research had yielded, she told the House. She's off to a bounding start telling us that teenagers want things to do and that the Tories are going to cut the number of teachers and take us back to selection at the age of five. Is that true? I'm not sure she'd say it on Judgement Day. Her faith in Tony Blair has certainly been rewarded.

But whatever your beliefs in politics you frequently seem to end up with the opposite of what you want. Mrs Thatcher closed more grammar schools than any subsequent prime minister. And now, eight years into Labour "governing for the many not the few", inequalities are said to be as entrenched as they were in Victorian times. The bourgeoisie rules! Which is just as well, as long as you're in the bourgeoisie.

NB: That nice young Stephen Twigg said he wanted our children to learn Mandarin. In fact, the Department of Education's definition of "European languages" had been extended to include Chinese. You'd have to understand the Mandarin spoken by the senior Civil Service to get your head round that.