A minister is apparently asking teachers at Universities for lists of lecturers who are teaching about Brexit (source: here). Perhaps the comparisons to 1984 and McCarthyism are overblown (although the principle that this Government may be benign, but the idea that their successors are as yet unknown still stands).
Rather the disturbing principle is rather part of a wider encroachment into academia and education in the vein of the Prevent duty. With the latter law, teachers are expected to look for activities that do not align with British values and report potential terrorist activity. The training for such a duty has been as ill-thought out as it is dire but that is not the most worrying part.
The idea that teachers are able to identify people who are enemies of the state does sound dystopian. However, assuming the requests are benign how does are they expected to identify such people? Under what criteria?
Imaging a stereotyped science teacher who is entrusted with a mixed class. After studying for his PhD and working in industry, he moves into teaching and works as unqualified teacher in an academy.
What experience is he using to decide which students are displaying attitudes not compatible with British values? What if he is bringing prejudice and stereotypical views into his analysis of a situation, maligning disadvantaged students in his care?
If we ask teachers to be the first line of defence we run a very thin line of acceptability. Rather like asking landlords to check passports when they rent out a spare room in their house. Would you be able to identify a fake New Zealand passport; you are now expected to make a decision based on your experience.
You may not be able to sleep well at night if you think about this too deeply. Those that want to be endowed with this type of power are exactly those who should not be entrusted with it. Those that are watching and checking up on us are suddenly given legitimacy and power.