Gary Day

June 13, 2003

Another fearsome Margaret is bent on world domination. But this one has a soul, even if it's only on the bottom of her 'snazzy' shoes....

Hello, it's me here. Margaret. No, not the model T. I'm better known for my shoes than my handbag. Did you see that bit in The THES a while ago where the diarist called them "snazzy"? I was very pleased with that. It's so important to create the right impression, don't you think? Alistair Campbell said that "presentation is professionalism on parade". At least, I think it was him. It might have been Shakespeare.

Appearance is so important. I learnt that when I was a consultant for Price Waterhouse. Yes, I'm very proud to share a name with Britain's only woman prime minister. And I'm not the only one to admire her. She's the pin-up of all the PM's men. Between you and me, I think that's one of the reasons Clare Short resigned. She is very old Labour about such things. I used to be when I was at Islington, but now I'm Barking.

Anyway, as I was saying, it's me, Margaret, Margaret Bodge. I mean Hodge. Oh these computers! Do your fingers slip so you misspell a word? It's always happening to me. You may remember that earlier this year I took some very nice vice-chancellors from the Russell Group to China. My goodness, what a fuss! The new universities accused me of elitism. Me, who wants to widen participation!

Haven't I always said that anyone, no matter what their background, can go to a proper university as long as they can afford it? Well, I was tapping out an email to these same vice-chancellors when I chipped my lovely purple nail polish. I was so annoyed I said, "Oh bother!" rather loudly. And who do you think was behind me? Yes, the PM. I did blush.

He wanted to know what I thought of his new slogan: "Education is the best economic policy there is." I said I didn't think I'd be able to remember it as easily as "education, education, education". He quite understood but said it needed to be changed in case voters thought we believed in education for its own sake. I agreed immediately.

The PM beamed and then read over what I'd written. I was a little puzzled when he said: "Look", he said, "I mean, the thing is, Margaret, you need to get your syntax sorted. OK?" Puzzled, I asked him if that was another way of funding higher education. Well, I didn't study English at university, did I? He stared at me. Unfortunately, I don't think it was because of my new hairdo. Suddenly he grinned in that lovely way he has and said:

"Perhaps I should introduce a literacy hour for ministers." I think he was joking. It's very difficult to tell with the PM because he is so sincere.

I don't know about a literacy hour but, after his recent financial bungling, I think the secretary of state for education would benefit from a numeracy hour. Now there's someone who could take a bit more pride in his appearance. I don't know what his wife is thinking of, letting him go out like that. And can you believe he studied maths and economics at Cambridge?

From the mess he's made of school finances, you'd think he'd graduated from one of those horrid new universities, though why on earth they're called "universities", I just don't know. Knowing him, I expect he spent more time playing politics than getting on with his degree.

I'm sure there are some people out there, particularly those students responsible for, who think that because I only got a third-class honours I'm in no position to criticise my colleague. Well, I want them to know that I would have worked harder if the university had made me. Do you know I wrote only one essay in three years? The London School of Economics ought to be ashamed of itself. I may even close it down.

Now, what was it I actually wanted to say? Oh yes. I'm rather peeved that Mr Clarke has been hogging all the headlines with his talk about how evil universities are or something like that. Well, I've been scribbling away on the back of an envelope and have come up with a few ideas of my own. I'm going to redefine what a university is and I'm going to control the higher education market. And that's just for starters.

Mr Clarke may be in the cabinet, but I'm the minister for higher education and lifelong learning. Did you know that the first letters of my post spell "hell" and, on June 4, there were 666 references to me in The Guardian archives? The omens are good. I've never thought of myself as a devil woman before. But I rather like it. So all of you, be afraid. Be very afraid; for tomorrow belongs to me.

Gary Day is principal lecturer in English at De Montfort University.

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