SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: Unions – right and wrong?

Sir Peter Bottomley
Sir Peter Bottomley

“It was so interesting to hear what it is like inside the Houses of Parliament and we were glad to hear that MPs are not always fighting.

“We thought you would have made a very good teacher. After listening to what you said, we considered the fact that actually what is important is being a good person and understanding the reasons for our laws. We were really interested to hear that if you weren’t an MP you would have been a bus driver or a teacher.”

These are words from children who interviewed me.

I wonder if I could be good enough to be a professional teacher.

In early 1963, to get over the bad winter, I had travelled to Australia, hitchhiking to Alice Springs from Darwin before walking on the hills of Tasmania with Tenzing Norgay ten years after he and Edmund Hillary made the first successful ascent of Everest.

That gave me credibility last week when I showed Parliament to a company of new Gurkhas from Nepal.

Incidentally, Tenzing had not been told the day of his birth so he chose May 29, the day he stood on the summit.

The director of studies at Geelong Grammar school asked me to take his lessons for three weeks while he visited the Antarctic islands.

Aged 18, my first lesson involved explaining why there are not square roots of negative numbers; my second was a discussion on imaginary or complex numbers with the brightest mathematicians – using the square root of minus one.

That experience increased my admiration for teachers and it nearly caused me to drink alcohol for the first time.

I need to have a discussion with a representative of the National Union of Teachers.

It concerns worries about the feeling by some black students and a teacher in Sussex that they are not treated fairly.

For all the frustrations about the consequences of strikes, I do recognise that unions can provide advice and representation for employees who may have been wrongly targeted by their managers or headteachers.

Similarly, I have worked successfully with representatives of the British Medical Association for individual doctors away from Sussex when there has unjustified disciplinary action.

That can live alongside my view that the industrial action by junior doctors was unwise and not justified.

The worst effects of strikes and widespread absence from work has been felt on the railway.

The impact has been sustained and awful for travellers.

This week I met a person who decided not to complete a planned home move because she could have unreliable journeys to and from work.

It is tempting to consider the other union, the EU.

Event has succeeded event, twists have followed turns, leaders and candidates come and go.

This week started with the Somme service in Worthing, followed by the all-night Vigil and Requiem at Westminster Abbey.

Our grandparents lost siblings one hundred years ago; our parents’ generation were caught up in the Second World War.

Our differences and arguments are settled in other ways.

We are not silently leaning against the side of the trench, wondering if we have much longer to live, brushing away the thought of death.

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