The martyr who would have been secret

A hitherto secret martyr emerges over Tony Blair's state schools giveaway, in the shape of burly Ian Stewart.

The "Eccles One", as he now is, resigned as parliamentary bag carrier to the cabinet minister Alan Johnson to vote against the Educashun Bill's third reading. Stewart's protest would have gone unheralded had Nottingham University anoraks, Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart, not finished their homework and got round to wondering why a PPS had appeared in the "noe" lobby.

Secondary school boy Stewart has, it transpires, an aversion to elitist so-called trust schools and foresaw his then political master swapping industry for satchels in the reshuffle. My mole whispers that No 10 offered the Eccles One another bag to carry a few weeks later, as thanks for the vow of omertà, but he politely declined.

Calls for a steward's inquiry as spectators dispute the result of a grudge-a-swim. Tories were the opposition but for Labour's pro-Europe Chris Bryant and anti-Europe Ian Davidson, the enemy was each other.

My poolside snout reports that Davidson, who resembled a hairy gorilla in skimpy trunks, raised his fist in triumph until judges hailed his rival, likened to Mr Universe's mini-me, victor by a fingertip. Davidson accepted the verdict with good grace, unlike the truculent hacks still bickering about who had won their slow-lane contest.

To the Blaenau Gwent by-election where Citizen Dave's Cons implausibly conjure up the ghost of Nye Bevan in their aid. Cameron's written for the Bevan Foundation think-tank mag, while blue candidate Margrit Williams vows to uphold Bevan's NHS legacy.

On an incursion into Bevan's home patch, Old Etonian merchant banker and Con policy wonker Oli Letwin is forced to concede that Bevan was no Tory. Reminded that Bevan called them "lower than vermin", Oli reluctantly admits "differences" but insists they were in the past.

Back to educashun, where joy flows untapped in the water-spraying industry over minister Jim Knight's plans to host a "round table" on 4 July into the burning issue of sprinklers in schools. An e-mail is re-routed to my inbox from excited industry lobbyist Bernadette Hartley, a failed wannabe Labour MEP, urging selected MPs to write to Knight and sign an EDM extolling the value of her paymasters' wares. Doubtless Knight will bang the table and declare he moonlighted in his days as a mere backbencher as a paid director of the Fire Protection Association, which, fortuitously, backs sprinklers.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the "Daily Mirror"Observations

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