Reluctant leaders

February 6, 1998

Little-used negotiating skills were brought to bear by education minister Baroness Blackstone and Tory shadow Stephen Dorrell before last week's Guardian debate on higher education fees and grants. About 50 left-wing students occupied the stage at the Institute of Education threatening to halt the debate before it began. Blackstone and Dorrell retreated back stage as Guardian education editor and increasingly agitated organiser John Carvel began negotiations with the demonstrators.

NUS leader Douglas Trainer lent an apparently reluctant hand. After nearly 30 minutes Dorrell was able to propose the motion "the government's policy on student funding will not achieve the national requirement to expand higher education". When it came to the vote, an unholy alliance had been forged between the left-wing protesters and Dorrell. The motion was carried but guess who abstained? Students may wish to ask the NUS leadership.

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