Every Easter thousands of sane, moderate teachers (who still make up the majority of the profession) metaphorically close their eyes and hope that the extremists who gather at the union conferences do not embarrass them any more than they have done in previous years. And every Easter, without fail, the various unions surpass themselves.
Who could forget the 1995 NUT conference, where Labour’s education spokesman David Blunkett (and his guide dog Lucy) were chased into a small room while teachers chanted slogans at him for half an hour? More recently Conservative ministers have, understandably, decided to avoid going to these events because they know that nothing constructive will come of them trying to explain their policies to a group of activists who make the Socialist Workers Party look like the Mothers’ Union.
This year’s conference season has been particularly grim. Even before term had finished, the National Education Union (NEU) served up a malodorous conference amuse-bouche when its president, Daniel Kebede, issued a statement saying the Ukraine ‘conflict’ must ‘not lead to the expansion and consolidation of military alliances in Europe’. Let’s leave aside why a teaching union feels it should have a position on such matters, and look at the pusillanimous Corbynite language employed: this isn’t a war, it’s a ‘conflict’, these are not countries who voluntarily seek to join Nato: no, they are annexed by Western forces keen to extend their hegemony ever eastwards. Kebede withdrew the statement after being condemned online by many of his own members, but few believed that this most politically minded of organisations had changed its stripes: they are leftwing activists first and people interested in education a distant second.
Yesterday, Kebede revealed his true (deep red) colours once more. Speaking at a fringe event, he said that he was ‘proud that the NEU is affiliated to Stop the War. The strengthening of military alliances in Eastern Europe will do nothing to bring peace’. Kevin Courtney, the union’s joint general secretary, told the same event that he ‘doesn’t trust Boris Johnson at home’ and nor does he ‘trust him abroad’. ‘We have to fight for peace’, he averred from the comfort of a conference centre on the south English coast.
For the likes of Courtney, Kebede, Stop the War, and the many other useful idiots doing the Kremlin’s work for them, blame lies firmly with the West. Indeed, Stop the War state very clearly on their website that the war in the Ukraine is ‘the product of thirty years of failed policies…as well as major wars of aggression by the USA, Britain and other Nato powers which have undermined international law and the United Nations’. Back in 2014, when it came to a choice between supporting Ukraine or Russia over the invasion of Crimea, Stop the War were unambiguous: ‘let it be Russia‘.
How can any organisation be ‘proud’ to be affiliated with an organisation which has repeatedly sought to deflect or explain away Putin’s intolerable barbarism? You would hope that a union which represents teachers, with their vital responsibility to our young people, would be able to locate its moral compass and condemn Russia’s murderous campaign unequivocally. But the NEU has long since been hijacked by extremists whose hatred of the West and its values knows no limits.
The NEU is the largest teaching union in the country, and it should have some influence when it comes to shaping domestic educational policy. The lunatic political posturing of its leadership means, however, that it has long lost any rightful claim to speak on behalf of the majority of its members. This is a union led by ex-teachers who have long lost touch with those they think they represent.
It’s not just their politics in a broad sense, but their policies, which have been rightly derided by many as self-serving and politically tendentious. The NEU’s position on the closing of schools during the pandemic was entirely negative, seeking to put teachers’ interests before pupils and their families. They are obsessed with abolishing Ofsted, the regulatory body that seeks to maintain standards across schools. For the NEU teachers ‘work under its shadow’, inevitably adding ‘stress’ to teachers’ lives, they are a ‘blight’ on schools that results in ‘appalling’ retention rates and the ‘haemorrhaging’ of staff from the profession.
Like so many of their views, it is reductive, simplistic, accusatory, and unconstructive, and all delivered in the now familiar overly emotive language deployed to shut down different views. Above all else, they don’t want any accountability, nor do they ever accept responsibility for their actions.
Theirs is a worldview more reminiscent of the playground than the real world. And perhaps that explains a lot about the NEU, its leadership, and those who, drone-like, congregate in these desultory meetings, handing out leaflets from recycled carrier bags, who buy the usual merch about Palestine and other conspiracy theories that confirm their embedded prejudices. These are activists who have been infantilised by their profession, who see the world through a Manichaean lens, in which the West are always the bullies, and everyone else the victims, where figures of authority are oppressors, and those who seek to oppose them heroes.
Their tragedy is that they never grew up, forever having tantrums at a world that doesn’t understand them. And like the disruptive children they are, they deserve to be permanently excluded from any serious conversation. If their members had any sympathy for those in the Ukraine they should leave this union immediately. They are a national disgrace.
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