Teachers' leader blames 'dictator' Blair for apathy

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair was branded a dictator yesterday in an attack on "self-serving" politicians by the veteran leader of one of the main teaching unions.

Politicians had done more damage to children's education than any other factor in the past 30 years, Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, told the union's annual conference.

On the eve of his retirement after 33 years as an NASUWT activist, Mr De Gruchy said the Prime Minister's dictatorial style of government and the bad behaviour of politicians were to blame for the cynicism and apathy that produced last year's low general election turn-out. Politicians had created problems in schools and then blamed the teachers, he said.

Mr de Gruchy, tipped to be the next president of the Trades Union Congress, told delegates: "In 33 years of active involvement in teacher politics, the biggest single problem which has faced us is the politicians.

"When I feel better disposed to them on my generous days, I would describe many of them – not all, and maybe the current Education Secretary is an exception – as a bunch ofambitious, self-seeking, self-opinionated rogues.

"They spend one decade pulling us one way and the next decade pulling us back in the opposite direction, always with inadequate resources."

However, Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education, did not escape Mr De Gruchy's wrath completely. He said she had changed her views to help her promotion prospects.

He condemned Ms Morris for criticising teachers who threatened industrial action over the 35-hour week, although she herself had joined the walkouts of the 1980s.

He said: "I say to Estelle, 'Is your memory so short?' You often boast about the fact that you were once a teacher. I would like to ask Estelle whether she would still be saying the sort of things she has said about teachers if she was still a teacher at Sidney Stringer School in Coventry."

The only common feature politicians shared was that they never gave teachers the resources required to do the job, Mr De Gruchy said. "Unfortunately, every politician, every minister that comes along feels they have to make their mark."

Mr De Gruchy infuriated ministers and the Unison public service union in November when he was accused of describing classroom assistants as "pig-ignorant peasants", although he claimed he had been misinterpreted.

He said yesterday it was no surprise that cynicism prevailed and the membership of political parties was plummeting. "People aren't stupid. They ask themselves a simple question: why bother to join political parties, community associations and the like when no matter how hard I might work, I'm going to be ignored when it comes to having a say on policy?

"They know it is decided by the President – sorry, Prime Minister – and his little coterie of special advisers, friends and a few motley millionaires.

"Even cabinet government is being destroyed before our very eyes. Of course, I do not say Britain is a dictatorship, but I wonder whether the general election is just reduced to changing dictators.

"And just as in any other dictatorship, the whole system depends upon the fawning ambitions of underlings all jostling to become the next President – sorry, Prime Minister."

But Mr De Gruchy did not reserve his criticism for the Government. He said: "Iain Duncan Smith claims to be the champion of the sick and under-privileged. Really, what fools do they take the nation to be?"

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills dismissed Mr De Gruchy's speech as intemperate. He said: "I think we are all used to intemperate remarks at the Easter conferences. The Government's record on education speaks for itself, with £540 extra per pupil and 12,000 more teachers than in 1997. These conferences, with their repeated threats of industrial action, do damage to the image and reputation of teachers."

A Tory spokeswoman refused to comment until after the Queen Mother's funeral.

&#149' Four out of 10 senior local Labour officials believe the party is heading for a showdown with the unions before the next general election, a poll of constituency party chairmen suggests. The poll, conducted by BBC Radio 4's The World at One, also showed that two in 10 of the chairmen felt Labour MPs did not represent the views of the party's rank and file.

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