Shooting Michael Ancram?

Owen Walker's round-up of the best of the politics blogs finds arguments to the left and arguments t

In a week where Gordon Brown stood legs akimbo across the centre ground and declared his admiration for Margaret Thatcher, stalwarts from both sides of the political spectrum let off time bombs within their own ranks.

George Galloway began by sending out a document to Respect’s National Congress members which argued for "re-evaluating" the party’s relationship with the SWP. It can be read in full here.

This sparked a series of debates on the comments boards of various blogs. David Osler began one debate by asking: "Why has the SWP made all this public at such an early stage, instead of trying to keep word of the document under wraps? Does this indicate that this is more than a minor spat?"

In another, John Gray stated: "I reckon that Galloway is gambling that the SWP will back down and let him run the show. The present leadership of the SWP have invested heavily in Respect. Also, frankly there is nowhere else for them to go."

On to the Right side. Following Patrick Mercer and John Bercow’s decision to accept advisory posts offered by Gordon Brown, former Tory chairman Michael Ancram launched an attack on the modern party which drew outrage from the Young Turks.

Antony Little was livid with the trio (Mercer, Bercow and Ancram – which Mike Ion pointed out sounds like an accountancy firm): "Don't they see that they are been used as a stage-managed tool by the Brown government (in the case of Bercow and Mercer) or just giving ammunition to our opponents (Ancram ... who should know better). Activists up and down the country must have their heads in their hands."

While, Caroline Hunt sees the problem as being endemic within Conservative ranks: "I have learnt in the last year that a vast number of Tory party members would rather live under a Labour government indefinitely and instead stick the knife into their own party rather than attack this woefully dishonest and inept government."

Over at Our Kingdom, Anthony Barnett has written a neat piece about what he sees as a class war within the Tory party. This, he states, is the reason for much of the backlash against Ancram’s open letter.

This was partly based on criticism from Iain Dale, who asked for contributions for the top ten reasons why Michael Ancram should be taken outside and shot (which Dale was keen to stress – for those lacking a sense of humour – was “done in the style of David Letterman's Top Ten Lists, which are funny, sardonic and often ironic”). The pick of the bunch were: “Number 10: So he knows how the grouse feel; Number 9: Because we need to discourage the aristocracy from overbreeding; and Number 1: Because shooting him inside would mean that you'd have to repaint the walls.”

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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