Fashion victims of the hard left

21st April 2000 at 01:00
IT'S Easter again - a time for packing away the school books, peeling open an Easter egg or two and putting your feet up. Unless, of course, you're a delegate at one of this weekend's teacher conferences.

Life will be no Easter bonnet parade for those hardy warriors on the frontline of the annual outings of the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. The beauty of Harrogate's carefully tended flowerbeds and the charms of Llandudno's seafront will be all but lost on the teaching profession's two most vociferous unions.

Locked behind closed doors they will do battle over the minutiae of education policy.

But unsuspecting citizens of Harrogate and Llandudno beware: to outsiders - or even first-time delegates - it can seem that a very strange life form has just taken over the local conference centre.

Delegates' political positioning within the NUT can be detected before even a word is spoken. Smart casual equals broad left and the face that most of the union's executive wants to project on television screens across the land.

The leather jacket and T-shirt means we're harder - and harder left - thanthat bunch up on the stage.

For the first-time delegate inside the conference hall, it will seem as if the nation's teachers are constantly on the brink of revolution. And the hardliners' talk of strike action is guaranteed to provide newspaper headlines on what is usually a dull bank holiday weekend.

"Teachers on brink of strike action" followed by "Teachers pull back from strike action" is the usual form.

There is a bewildering protocol of card votes and priority motions designed to make sure anything controversial falls off the agenda. It only takes about five years of attending to work out what is going on.

Over in Llandudno, the NASUWT will be operating an altogether tighter operation. Appearances are more New Labour than the NUT - but there are still a few beards and beer bellies swelling the ranks.

Hank Roberts, a member of Unity 2000, the group fighting for the six teaching unions to become one, says: "While the NUT is an undisciplined striking machine, a rabble which integrates everyone, the NASUWT is a disciplined striking machine, a paragon of good order which excludes all disruptives - but preferably hangs and flogs them first."

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