Democratic defence

June 27, 2003

Paul Mackney, general secretary of Natfhe, has tried to justify his support of lecturers who refuse to teach students on political grounds ("A violent reaction", THES , June 20) after critical comments I made in an interview with The THES the previous week.

Mackney criticises me on the basis that I was quoted as saying I did "not regret" my past National Front membership. It's true that I was a member of the NF until 1989 and that I left it over political differences. When asked by The THES if I "regretted" or "repented", I gave a more complex reply than the one printed. I said that I did not regret it because it was part of what made me think the way I do now. If I'm to be criticised, I hope it's on the basis of my full statement.

For the record, I'm now a member of the Third Way political party, which has as its goal "a non-racist society" and which has an explicit equal-opportunities policy.

Mackney then goes on to detail harassment he suffered in the early 1980s.

He says the NF printed names and details of opponents at the time. This is true. It's also true that some NF opponents printed names, addresses, photographs and workplace details of NF members. Mackney does not make clear that a game of tit-for-tat was being played, nor does he say if he opposes this sort of intimidation in general or only when it is used against him or his friends. I condemn this behaviour whatever its political motivation.

Mackney reveals details of my current employment. Do I have the "right to work and study free from fear"? Do I have the right to "work in an atmosphere free from intimidation"? He also seems to question my teaching qualifications. I have a PGCE (FE) from the University of Greenwich, although I work outside education.

Mackney tries to confuse behaviour with political opinion to justify Natfhe policies. No one is saying that a student who is disruptive in class or harassing a lecturer should be immune to discipline. But no one should be labelled, bullied or excluded because of their political opinions.

Mackney points out that "the policy does not preclude universities from making alternative arrangements to fulfil their contractual obligations".

This appears to be an acceptance that British National Party members cannot be excluded from education on political grounds - my point exactly.

He suggests that educational institutions should try to find work to accommodate lecturers who refuse to teach students on political grounds.

What would this say about our democratic values and how we value civic society?

Lecturers should have the sense to see that a positive commitment to democratic values is the best answer to "political extremists". Thankfully, as Mackney himself notes, no lecturer has yet refused to teach a member of the BNP on political grounds. Let's all hope that none does and that this unwise, tokenist and anti-democratic policy is either reversed or left to gather dust.

Patrick Harrington
Third Way
London

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