The taxi driver's analysis

A glimpse of the pied piper, a Chinese driver who thinks he knows the PM's secret, and much more...

As a wet-behind-the-ears journalist, two months into my first job and on my first trip to a party conference, the prospect of filing for four publications – having never been to Bournemouth before – without a guide or map is a tad daunting.

I realised the level of my naivety at half-past five on Friday afternoon. It was only then my trip was finalised and I had a quick search on the net only to find every hotel bed on the South Coast was already booked up.

When I phoned guest houses and B&Bs I felt like Christian Bale in American Psycho trying to order a table at the most coveted restaurant in Manhattan. You could hear each receptionist holding back the guffaws as I asked if they had a room to spare for the following week.

At £550 for a press ticket, it was a tall order convincing my editor it was essential I attend the main conference, so I satisfied myself with attending the smaller fringe events in hotel function rooms and tearooms.

Researching what events were on was an arduous task. Unlike the Conservatives’ website – which had a 107-page pdf fringe listings guide a full week before the conference – Labour refused to put a listings guide on their site. Paid-up delegates would only receive a guide when they turned up.

Quite how you’re supposed to plan your conference before you turn up, not even knowing what days specific events are on, I don’t know. Undoubtedly, many event sponsors, who have forked out plenty of money to put on events, but received no publicity from the organisers, would be pretty aggrieved. The £550 for a ticket must go towards a lot of bubbly.

My first event is the first Tory fringe event at a Labour party conference. Shadow Works and Pensions Secretary Chris Grayling whipped up a room of disgruntled pensioners to a fury and then led them – like an inversed Pied Piper of Hamlyn – to march through the town and to the main conference building. They then stripped off on Bournemouth beach in protest over collapsed pension funds, while bemused policemen and seagulls looked on.

I later got a cab to my hotel in (not-so-nearby) Poole and the Chinese driver gave me his views of the new PM, despite admitting knowing little about Brown. “The current prime minister,” he insisted, “held a gun to the former one after they had an argument and told him to get out. That’s what happens in China all the time.”

I suggested this may not have been the case, but was assured it “probably had been like that”. Perhaps Martin Bright has missed a scoop.

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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