New education minister threatens teachers’ union boss with legal action for ‘defamation’
For a Conservative education minister, dealing with teachers’ unions was never going to be easy.
But Brendan Clarke-Smith had barely been in his new role for six hours before a major spat broke out between him and a headteachers’ union boss.
The MP for Bassetlaw, elected in 2019, was promoted to minister for children and families earlier this month under the caretaker administration quickly put in place following the mass resignation of ministers under Boris Johnson.
Mr Clarke-Smith’s position was announced by Downing Street just after 3pm on the afternoon of July 8. At 9 p.m. that evening, the argument was underway.
It was sparked by Dr Paul Gosling, president of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), who posted an image on Twitter of Mr Clarke-Smith posing for the camera with his arm muscles flexed and wearing only a string.
Dr Gosling, who is also headmaster of Exeter Road Community Primary School, posted the photo with a caption that claimed the image was taken ‘in the midst of the pandemic to remove the p— from staff NHS local who begged people to wear a mask” by putting “one on his n–”.
The union boss also added his own message, which read: “As manager, from September I will have to do social media checks on new staff. This new Education Department minister would not be employed in ANY role at a school.
The minister will demand an apology from the union leader
The problem was that this image hadn’t been taken during the pandemic at all and it certainly wasn’t meant to poke fun at NHS workers. Mr Clarke-Smith has instructed lawyers, who are now preparing to send Dr Gosling a letter asking for a public apology and damages.
The image was actually captured in 2011 when Mr Clarke-Smith, who was then a Conservative councilor and teacher, took part in a charity event at his local pub which involved having his chest waxed to raise money for the British Heart Foundation and the Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire Air Ambulance.
“There were a few hundred people, a entertainer and a nightclub,” Mr Clarke-Smith told the Telegraph. “I’m quite hairy, so we did a charity wax and raised a lot of money.
“There was a picture of me in some kind of thong. Then I did a little pose for the camera and it was sent to local media. We handed over the check to the charity and thought of nothing else.
But when Mr Clarke-Smith was appointed Minister for the Department for Education earlier this month, the photo resurfaced on social media with the caption claiming he was making fun of NHS workers during the Covid-19 crisis. 19.
“The day I was made minister, a local troll took it out [on Twitter] with text that said this is the new Minister for Education and here he is during the pandemic mocking NHS staff,” he said.