Brendan O’Neill Brendan O’Neill

In praise of the Batley binmen

People gather outside the gates of Batley Grammar School (Getty images)

If you need someone to support your right to freedom of speech, forget the teaching unions. Don’t look to the commentariat. And don’t even bother with the Labour party, many of whose younger, angrier members will often be found in the ranks of cancel-culture mobs calling for someone or other to be erased from polite society for having blasphemed against a trendy new orthodoxy.

No, it’s the binmen you want to turn to. It’s the nation’s fine refuse collectors who will back you up when your liberty to speak is being pummelled.

Consider the case of the Batley Grammar schoolteacher who was suspended for showing his pupils an image of Muhammad during a religious studies lesson. Alarmingly, that teacher is still in hiding, fearing for his life. He has received death threats simply for doing what all good teachers should do: challenge their students to consider difficult moral questions.

The supposedly liberal establishment behaved shamefully in response to the demonisation and harassment of the teacher. Batley Grammar itself, in the face of angry protests outside the school gates, suspended him. The school essentially ‘threw him under a bus’, the teacher’s family said.

The teaching unions stayed almost entirely schtum about the case for ages. ‘It would not be appropriate to make any further comment’ while the school is investigating the incident, said the National Education Union. Not appropriate for a teaching union to comment on the fact that a teacher had received threats to his life and is now, according to his father, ‘devastated and crushed’, an ‘emotional wreck’? 

The teaching unions stayed almost entirely schtum about the case for ages

In which case, why do teaching unions even exist?

The political class wasn’t much better. Tracy Brabin, then the Labour MP for Batley, now the Mayor of West Yorkshire, praised the school for dealing swiftly with this incident that had caused so much ‘offence’ and ‘upset’.

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