Gentle dog hounded by hungry hack pack
All the key elements of the perfect tabloid story were there: a nice little riot in a confined space heaving with reporters, television cameramen, members of the most (reputedly) obstreperous teacher union debating strike action, left-wing agitators, and a blind Labour education spokesman, all followed by a tide of political embarrassment and recrimination in the gaudy funfair atmosphere of Blackpool. There was even a dog - David Blunkett's.
So nobody can have been very surprised by the extent of the coverage, or that the story hijacked the reporting of the National Union of Teachers' conference debate. Delegates perusing the press cuttings board in Blackpool's Winter Gardens earlier this week sounded resigned to this latest blow to their profession's public image, but were depressed by the salacious enthusiasm with which some papers were exposing the militants, tarring all teachers with the same brush in the process: "These are the bullies who berated a blind man . . . They may teach your children!" (Daily Mail).
Perhaps the oddest reaction was Roy Hattersley's in Monday's Guardian. In a tortuously-argued "endpiece", he begins by condemning the "yobbos who rampage about conference fringes" and then goes on to accuse the Labour front bench of prejudicing the outcome of the Clause 4 debate by "posturing about education". Blunkett's Fresh Start proposal earns his ridicule: "The idea is not serious politics . . . who would teach the pupils during a transition which would certainly last longer than a summer holiday? How long would the appeals against unfair dismissal last? And - since Labour now believes in school league tables - why will bad schools not be identified before they reach a terminal state?" Fair enough, but don't interpret this as sympathy for ordinary teachers who might also be concerned about the drift of Labour education policy, for he writes from the rarefied viewpoint of a retired deputy Labour leader: "As for the teachers, since I did not listen to them at school it is hardly likely that I am starting now. I just worry about the effects of Labour's new education policy on people who take education seriously." Such as? ". . . the respectable ladies and gents who sit on the platforms". But he surely cannot be referring to the NUT executive's platform here, because "unlike many modernisers, I do not want to loosen the ties that bind Labour to the union. I want to sever them completely." Confused? I certainly was.
Mr Hattersley was spot-on about one thing, though: the impact of the NUT conference debacle on the great British public: "Breaching the peace is bad enough, but frightening a dog will be regarded as unforgivable."