United with Livingstone

Opposition to the BNP makes for some curious political alliances

There is not much on which Ken Livingstone and I agree.

However we are united in our determination to ensure that next May’s election to the London Assembly do not produce one or more members of the British National Party sitting in City Hall.

The electoral system for the Assembly has 14 'first past the post' constituencies and, with the current lead in the polls, the Conservatives should pick up 10 or 11 seats.

Then there are the 11 so-called 'top up seats' elected under a system of proportional representation named after its Belgian founder D’Hondt.

In 2004 this produced two UKIP members of the Assembly who, after less than a year, defected to Robert Kilroy-Silk’s soon forgotten egomaniac Veritas Party.

They now sit as the the 'One London' Party after UKIP (in my view wisely) refused to take them back.

These two illustrate the dangers of proportional representation. One has the look of a refugee from the Haberdashery Department of John Lewis and the other (on those occasions he turns up) plays entirely to the gallery and repeats the views of whoever the last person to knobble him was. Neither member will survive next May under any banner as the poll does not coincide with the European Parliament election.

However UKIP/Veritas/One London’s reasonably harmless, usually right wing, and totally ineffective presence in the Chamber at City Hall can be contrasted with the Green Party who have used their two votes to hold the Mayor to ransom over his budget and have cleverly and adroitly used their office to promote their general political philosophy and build their power base - on Lewisham and Southwark Councils in particular.

Indeed it has been suggested that the public resources available to the Green Party at City Hall in staffing and other costs have allowed them to run an effective London-wide machine.

It is exactly this Green Party scenario that Londoners should be worried about next May in relation to the BNP.

Five percent of the vote will give the far-right party one seat and eight percent, potentially, two seats.

On top of the £50K-a-year salary paid to Assembly members and the media profile they attract, about £100,000 is currently allocated per member in much needed member support costs.

The nightmare of the BNP funding its London operation from taxpayers’ money is too ghastly to contemplate. The same applies to the fast disintegrating Respect Party and their culture of extremism, although their electoral chances are diminishing by the week.

In a perfect world no Londoner will be misguided enough to vote for extreme parties, but what would be far more sensible would be put the genie of proportional representation, an imported Continental invention and decidedly unbritish, back in the bottle and keep our traditional election system.

You have been warned!

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
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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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