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Don't ban the BNP teachers

21 January 2009

Londoners pride themselves on being a pretty cosmopolitan and tolerant lot. In a city as culturally diverse as ours, you can hardly get along with others by clinging to outdated and irrational prejudices that belong to a forgotten age.

So it may be tempting to feel a touch of schaudenfreude at the BNP’s current plight. Who really cares about the release of their ‘private’ membership list, you may think. Surely it is right to ‘out’ those no good teachers, doctors, and vicars who have joined such a militant, far right group?

Some have gone further and argued that the public sector is no place for BNP members. Chris Keates, General Secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women teachers, declared yesterday: "Those who declare their affiliation to the BNP should not be allowed to work in the teaching profession or in public services."

Like many others, I find the BNP’s views repellent in the extreme. But as a teacher myself, I think it would be a profound mistake to follow Keates’ lead here. Living in a free and democratic society entitles people to join legal political parties, however extreme their views are.

If we start barring people from public service employment purely because of their political affiliation, we risk turning them into second class citizens. Indeed they may simply join the more productive private sector instead, an unintended consequence of such a witch hunt.

Secondly, let’s have the courage to recognize that not everyone joins the BNP for purely racist reasons. Not every signatory on this notorious list will be a reactionary, bone headed Little Englander desperate to shut Britannia’s gates to ‘Johnny foreigner’.

They may find the BNP attractive because they are disillusioned with mainstream political parties that have too often silenced debate on the core issues of immigration, crime and Islamic extremism. None of this excuses the BNP’s hard line take on these matters, nor does it deny that a hard core of activists is incorrigibly racist. But it is a wake up call to the Westminster elite not to leave debate in the hands of the BNP.

Of course teachers, like other public sector professionals, have to adhere to the values of their profession, including outlawing irrational discrimination on the grounds of race, religion and ethnicity. But the place for this is a classroom inspection, not a McCarthyite witch-hunt.

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"...there is no equivalence between the targeting of terrorists and the indiscriminate slaughter of non combatants..." (Yassin - Jewish Chronicle)

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