Letter sparks a storm of protest

SUFFOLK teachers’ union leader Graham White has come under fire from politicians across the board after saying that Saturday’s violence in London would not cause “personal suffering’’ like the cuts in public spending.

Mr White, who is secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in Suffolk, and a teacher at Great Cornard Upper School, wrote to the EADT (right) after of Saturday’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) march in London which was then followed by violence when a tiny proportion of the marchers attacked shops, banks and hotels in the West End of London.

Mr White, who took part in the peaceful part of the march, wrote: “The media, as expected, focused in on the few who were intent on causing damage to property. They targeted banks and big business – those who their research had shown to be substantial tax avoiders.

“I do not condone the violence but it was damage to property and not to peoples’ livelihoods or personal circumstances. It will not cause intense personal suffering unlike the Con-Dem cuts.”

He later said he regretted the “interpretation” of his comments, and stressed he did not condone the violence.

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His comments came under fire from politicians across the spectrum – Suffolk Coastal Conservative MP Dr Therese Coffey described them as “appalling” while former Labour county council leader Bryony Rudkin said they were “unhelpful” as the party gears up for May’s local elections.

Mr White said he was in no way condoning the violence: “I can see why they felt it was necessary but I would not condone it.

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“At the end of the day it was damaging property, it was not damaging people’s lives and in that sense I regret putting that bit in the paragraph in the way in which I did.”

Dr Coffey was shocked to hear the comments: “I think it is quite appalling, really,” she said. “As a senior official in a major union he really ought to be much more careful about what he says on things like this.”

Her views were backed up by fellow Conservative MP Dr Daniel Poulter, who represents Central Suffolk and North Ipswich. He said: “I think Mr White has been irresponsible. I know people who took part in the TUC march and they felt they had got their message across.”

Labour politicians were also irritated by Mr White’s comments.

Mrs Rudkin was on the march with members of her family. She said: “This kind of statement is not helpful. There is no justification for violence like this and it has been a distraction from what was a very peaceful march.”

Sandy Martin, who leads the Labour group on the county council, was also on the march. He said: “There is concern among some people at the amount of tax paid by some large companies – and like many others I would like the Government to tighten tax loopholes. But this kind of violence does not help anyone advance that argument.”

Suffolk County Council Liberal Democrat leader Kathy Pollard added: “Everyone has the right to peaceful protest – however there is no excuse for the kind of violence that was caused by a tiny minority on Saturday.’’

A statement from the national General Secretary of the NUT outlined the union’s opposition to violence. Christine Blower said: “The media and the police made it quite clear that the violent protests on Saturday had nothing to do with the TUC-organised March for the Alternative which the NUT, alongside other trade unions, was very proud to take part in.

“It was a tremendous day with 500,000 people peacefully protesting in central London. The NUT did not support the violent protests which took place on Saturday.”

Speaking to the EADT later, Mr White said: “What I meant was the people who were taking part in the violent action, their justification would be that they were damaging property not hurting people’s lives. They would say it was targeted against people who had avoided tax. If my letter is not clear then that is my fault.

“I did not make it clear but it is in terms of the justification from those particular people – from the anarchists.”

He accepted it would have been intimidating for customers and staff of the shops, banks and hotels targeted by the protesters.

He added: “If I haven’t made it clear, I regret if you have interpreted it in a particular way.”

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