Natfhe will make BNP 'dance with glee'

June 13, 2003

Lecturers' union Natfhe is playing into the hands of extremist parties by refusing to teach their members, said Patrick Harrington, the former National Front official who won a landmark 1980s High Court victory upholding his right to be taught in the face of violent protest.

In an exclusive interview with The THES this week, Mr Harrington said that Natfhe's decision to support lecturers who refused to teach or to work with any known member of the British National Party would hand the far-right group a profile-boosting legal victory. He said that the law was clear that no student could be denied an education because they held a particular political view.

Mr Harrington, who now disavows his extreme rightwing past and describes his views as "mainstream socialism", said Natfhe's move would bolster the BNP's recruitment and fundraising activities, and would increase racial tensions on campus.

"BNP leader Nick Griffin would have danced with glee at the Natfhe decision," said Mr Harrington, who was a leading member of the NF between 1979 and 1989 when he knew Mr Griffin.

"He knows that he has been given a powerful ally - the law. He holds all the good cards. He will use them deftly to cause maximum disruption and to punish the leadership of Natfhe and those foolish enough to seek to implement their directives. He will be ruthless."

Mr Harrington turned to the High Court in 1984 when, as a member of the NF national directorate, he was prevented from attending classes for his philosophy degree at the Polytechnic of North London (now London Metropolitan University) by violent student pickets.

He won a High Court injunction forcing the university to meet its contractual obligations to provide him with the education. Two protesters received jail terms when they continued to block his entry to lectures after the injunction was issued.

Mr Harrington said: "Senior members of the NF saw the polytechnic disputes as positive. They thought publicity would generate donations and recruitment, which it apparently did."

Natfhe agreed to the controversial policy at its annual conference last month after members became alarmed at recent electoral victories by the BNP and amid reports of increasing racist activity on university and college campuses.

Mr Harrington said: "I can understand that members want to make a statement, but it is bad policy and bad strategy. It is a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that the BNP made minor breakthroughs at the local elections. It should have been thought about and debated far more than it was. It is an example of 'infantile leftism'."

The Association of University Teachers had expressed concern that, because of its commitment to free speech and academic freedom, it could not support members who refused to teach racist students.

Mr Harrington, a qualified teacher, co-founded - with an orthodox Jew - the little-known political party Third Way. It describes itself as "radical centre" and advocates "strict but totally fair rules" on asylum and immigration, coupled with "cooperative and non-exploitative economic development overseas" and the cancellation of third world debt.

He said he did not regret his past NF membership, but he said he had "no time" for the BNP.

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