‘I’m a Left-wing teacher: get me out of the EU’

15th June 2016 at 18:06
Teachers and Brexit
‘It’s hard to work in education and argue that you want Brexit. I have to explain to colleagues that this isn’t about xenophobia – it’s about the right to democratic self-determination’

I am starting to get used to the moments of dead silence or, at times, the visceral reaction of barely disguised contempt whenever I announce, to my education colleagues, that I am voting Brexit.

The unspoken assumption is that we educated types are "inners" and the uneducated – mostly working-class types – are "outers". If you are opposed to the European Union then you must be at least a bit racist and xenophobic; though this contempt for Leave supporters is rarely made explicit in public debate.

Nonetheless, my experience of the education world is that the EU has been turned into a moral signifier: support for the EU is seen as a marker for tolerance, open-mindedness and niceness. Whereas, if you are an "outer" you are presumed to be narrow-minded, parochial and unenlightened.

When I was on the phone last week inviting a well-known person (whom I won't name) to an education debate I am involved in organising, it proved to be an eye-opener. Within minutes of discovering that I was a teacher, she proceeded to pour forth on "little Englanders, xenophobes and racists" in her depiction of Brexit supporters. There was a long silence on the other end of the phone when I eventually told her I was actually for "out".

I support Brexit because I think people have the right to elect and hold to account the people who make important decisions which affect our lives. If, like me, you think people should determine their political destinies, then in my view you should vote leave.

However well-intentioned the original idea of the EU, it has morphed into a remote, faceless and undemocratic institution which is not held to account. I am pro-Europe but anti-EU because the EU is not a union of peoples but of elites. You either believe in democratic accountability or you don’t, and by leaving the EU I believe that it gives us the potential to place decision-making back into the hands of our directly elected representatives. I understand why many of my fellow teachers may get queasy when they hear Right-wing politicians banging on about the problem of immigration.

Defending national sovereignty

But here’s the question everyone must honestly face: do you accept the right of nations to control their borders? Do you defend the right of a sovereign state to decide who can and cannot come in? I do. It’s called national sovereignty and, in my view, it is absolutely worth defending.

It seems to me that many teachers who are instinctively Left-wing understand that the EU is an elitist and anti-democratic institution, but they don’t have the guts to come out for Brexit. I would ask such people to have the courage of their convictions and defend popular sovereignty.

For those educators concerned about being associated with Right-wing politicians they may not like, I need to remind you that there is a noble Left-wing tradition of defending democracy and self-determination. In fact, it wasn't that long ago we used to hear stinging critiques of the undemocratic nature of the EU from trade union leaders and politicians who included Tony Benn.

In my ideal world, there would be no borders, and I am actually in favour of increasing immigration in the UK, but here’s the rub: I realise that, first of all, I have to win that political argument and, ultimately – no matter what way I come at this question – I have to defend the right of democratically elected politicians in Britain to decide immigration levels, not unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels.

If all this means I am siding with certain Tory politicians who I may not like, so be it. If it means I am labelled a "little Englander", so be it. But the bottom line is this: I believe in the right to self-determination and that’s why I’m voting out.

Kevin Rooney is the head of social science at Queens’ School, Bushey

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