‘Violent’ accusation: Tory MP takes aim at UCU

A Conservative MP has attacked the University and College Union for supporting “violent and illegal protest” in a move described by the union as a smear ahead of a key Commons vote.

January 19, 2011

Gavin Williamson, MP for South Staffordshire, wrote to Lisa Nandy, Labour MP for Wigan, about the work of a UCU officer in her parliamentary office.

“I am sure many of your constituents would be surprised to learn that you employ a senior official of a strident union whose general secretary [Sally Hunt] has been reported as chanting ‘Tory scum’ in a public address and whose president [Alan Whitaker] has incited law-breaking and violent protest,” Mr Williamson says in the letter, released by the Conservative Party’s press office.

It refers to reports of Ms Hunt’s conduct on the UCU-organised Fund Our Future: Stop Education Cuts demonstration of 10 November and to a statement supporting arrested students signed by some members of the union’s national executive committee, led by Mr Whitaker.

Mr Williamson claims that Ms Nandy’s “employment” of Lisa Johnson, the UCU’s political liaison officer, raises “serious questions”.

He asks whether “the substantial number of UCU officials who have backed violent and illegal forms of protest now have a direct line to Parliament”.

Some UCU members described Mr Williamson’s letter as a Tory “smear” designed to divert attention ahead of a House of Commons vote on the abolition of the educational maintenance allowance (EMA), to be held today.

The UCU has opposed the government’s plans to abolish the EMA, a payment of up to £30 a week to children from poorer families who remain in post-16 education.

A UCU spokesman said: “The UCU’s unequivocal position is that we are committed to non-violent protests, and absolutely condemn violence of any kind, whoever is the perpetrator.”

Ms Nandy said that she had not received the letter nor been in contact with Mr Williamson.

Ms Johnson “works in a voluntary capacity, primarily in coordinating the cross-party inquiry into looked-after children that I co-chair with Conservative MP Edward Timpson, but she is not paid out of parliamentary allowances by either of us”, Ms Nandy said.

Ms Nandy has declared her sponsorship of a parliamentary pass for Ms Johnson and made clear her role with the UCU.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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