Diary - Fiona Millar

Walking the dog on Hampstead Heath, I realise I have become the sort of person in boots and a woolly

Maybe life would have been easier if I had never become a school governor. Once upon a time I had a fairly peaceful existence writing articles about things such as HRT for the Daily Express. Now I find myself every week speaking somewhere on a subject that veers from everyone's idea of the dullest in the world, to the hottest potato of the moment. This week starts with a local Labour Party education policy forum. Not one member supports the flagship proposals in the government's recent white paper. Between speakers, I become mesmerised by a Martin Kettle piece in the Guardian, which claims that Labour MPs opposed to the current plans are intellectually deficient and should just vote for what they campaigned on in May. Make a mental note to check the manifesto, to see if all the proposals are in it. They aren't.

Most Sundays now include a walk on Hampstead Heath with the dog our 11-year-old daughter begged us to get before she moved on to horse riding. It's a fantastic way to clear your head, but I realise I have become the sort of person in walking boots and a woolly I used to think was slightly mad. This week's walk was curtailed by the need to pick up one of Hampstead's most legendary dog walkers, Michael Foot, and take him to lunch with the Kinnocks. Try to persuade older kids to come, as lunch with the two previous surviving Labour leaders might be an enlightening experience. Both look unimpressed. Neil and Glenys are their usual warm selves. Glenys, known as the "galloping granny" by her family, has been halfway round the world fighting the cause of developing countries since I last saw her, and still manages to look sensational. She agrees I should seek a reply to Kettle's piece. One son comes along in the end and is mesmerised by Michael's reminiscences of the postwar Attlee government.

Lots of support for my Guardian piece on the manifesto, but by Tuesday I have to revert to my parenting role (as chair of the National Family and Parenting Institute) for a debate on "Schools, parents or the government . . . who is really to blame for failure in the education system?" at Channel 4. Someone in the audience kicks off by explaining it is actually the fault of the media. As a parent who has worked in government and is now a journalist, I feel beleaguered. The initial vote shows a sizeable minority think parents are to blame. I make my defence of parents mostly doing a great job but getting blamed for all the world's ills, when what we really need is more support rather than punishment when we get it wrong. The audience starts to come round, but I am saved by my fellow panellist and the Guardian's "secondary school teacher of the year 2004", Philip Beadle, who claims it is all the fault of rap music. The articulate teenagers in the front row erupt. By the time the debate ends, only about three people are blaming parents. Most, rather unfairly, think it's the government's fault.

Spend quite a bit of time on the phone to Melissa Benn. We met after she published a book in memory of her mother, the comprehensive school campaigner Caroline Benn. We started off wanting to launch a campaign on behalf of the many satisfied state school parents whose views seem never to get heard, and we are now in the final stages of writing a pamphlet about the relevance of the comprehensive ideal and the impact good local schools have on their communities. Many of our discussions revolve around whether schools should have balanced intakes or simply reflect the local population (we favour the latter), but we end up gossiping about the whole school choice issue and the pressure it puts on children and friendships. I wonder whether we should abandon the worthy think pieces, slide downmarket and write a soap opera called Desperate Parents . . .?

My daughter's obsession with riding is seriously challenging to someone who has always lived on the same inner-city page of the A-Z and is naturally drawn more to Oxford Street than a field off the M1. Pondering a pair of purple jodhpurs in a "farm" shop, I decide I am too old to start now - and as Glenys reminds me on Sunday, I still do all that "water stuff" (I think she means my daily swim). However, picking up the paper and seeing that desperate ministers are considering making London a test bed for the proposed school reforms, I wonder if rural life - dogs, horses, mud and schools that aren't part of an irreversible legacy experiment - isn't attractive after all?

This article first appeared in the 28 November 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Apartheid