St Dennis tack unfortunate

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Is The TES's FE Focus section to be renamed the Dennis Hayes fanzine? There have been two articles on the Natfhe vice-president elect, "Man for a merger", (April 8), and "Activists braced for the arrival of the maverick president", (June 3), both in the form of hagiography with complimentary critique and accompanied by a portrait of him in a black shirt.

The articles refer to Mr Hayes's views on institutional racism. In the first, he is quoted saying "there is no such thing as institutional racism". In the second, he is apparently unable "to stop himself from saying 'it depends what you mean by institutional racism'." In neither is there explanation of his actual position save for a thin and unexplored comparison with "black power" and of its rejection of victim culture (an unintentional irony given that it was supporters of black power in the 1970s who first coined the term "institutional racism").

Instead we are treated to hyperbolic comparison between Paul Mackney, "most cerebral of general secretaries" and Mr Hayes, "ideas man", who has "immense ability". Such vacant flattery of a self-defined "maverick" gives to the latter a credibility which would be lost if there was substantive debate on sources and contexts of racism. Nowhere in the article is anyone from Natfhe's national executive or from its London region asked to respond to the issues that concern Mr Hayes and that are current union policy.

There was ample opportunity during and after the conference for The TES to have sought such opinions.

The motion from London region reasserting Natfhe policy on institutional racism was withdrawn because some union officials were concerned that it represented an implied criticism of their enduring commitment to fight against institutional racism. It was not withdrawn because Mr Hayes agreed to an invitation to discuss the issue at our next regional meeting. That offer was extended at the national conference when the motion was withdrawn and we hope this debate will go ahead. Understanding and combating institutional racism is fundamental to Natfhe. It is our belief that any retreat or dilution of the "Macpherson" principles let in racist expression. We welcome every opportunity to debate this issue. The masking of such debate by trivialisation and personification is not worthy of the union movement or The TES.

Cliff Snaith Secretary of Natfhe London region

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