Tristram Hunt mocked for crossing picket line to deliver lecture on Marx

Labour's shadow education secretary will today deliver a speech on "character" after coming under savage attack for crossing a picket line to deliver a lecture on Marx.

Tristram Hunt was confronted on the picket line by his colleagues at Queen Mary University London earlier this week.

"I shouted over to say surely the shadow secretary of state for eduction from the Labour party is not going to cross the picket line," Queen Mary politics lecturer Dr Lee Jones said.

"He stopped and looked shamefaced, I suppose. He said: 'I'm not a UCU member', turned away and carried on walking.

"I shouted after him: 'Maybe you should be.' He sort of just hurried away. People couldn't quite believe it. It was galling."

Jones said Hunt's actions were a sign that the Labour party had "continued to drift ever rightwards".

He added: "The only surprising thing was that a media-savvy professional politician would be willing to risk an inevitable PR backlash and did not sneak on to campus via a rear entrance."

Hunt also came under attack from leading figures in his own party.

Labour's former campaign co-ordinator Tom Watson lashed his colleague for the "preposterous irony" of breaking a picket in order to teach about Marxism.

"Those lecturers, working in the shadow of the high rise banking headquarters of the City, have had an effective pay cut in recent years. The preposterous irony of Tristram's action will amuse many, but Labour is too near a general election to write a new episode of Thick of It," he wrote on his blog.

He called on him to resign his post at Queen Mary.

"I'd rather the shadow secretary of state for education, resign his post as a lecturer than cross a picket line of striking lecturers, in order to deliver a history module on 'Marx, Engels and the making of Marxism'."

Hunt yesterday defended his actions, saying that his "personal commitment remained to the students" he was lecturing rather than to the strikers.

He added: "I support the right to strike for those who have balloted to picket. I have chosen not to join the strike."

A union representing university workers said they were disappointed at Hunt's decision.

"It is disappointing that Tristram appears to be using his students as an excuse to cross the picket line, particularly since the National Union of Students supports the trade union case for a decent pay rise," University and College Union Sally Hunt said.

In a letter to the shadow education secretary they added:"It is a fundamental principle, not only of my union but the movement in general, that you do not cross a picket line.

"I am therefore assuming that you have simply made an error or that you have no prior knowledge of how picket lines work."

Hunt also came under fire from leading party activists. The editor of the website Labour List accused Hunt of having a "tin ear" to the party's members.

"I think you've got all the qualities required to go to the very top," Mark Ferguson wrote.

"But crossing that picket line suggests a tin ear to the feelings and concerns of so many at Labour's grassroots."

The attacks on Hunt came as he prepared a speech calling for "character" to be taught on the national curriculum.

According to Hunt children would be taught "grit and determination" in school under Labour.

"Character is not best taught through adversity – its study belongs in the supportive, dedicated and aspirational communities that the best schools provide," he will say, adding that "character can be taught."