Weekend Round-Up -- 8 September 2008

Following Charles Clarke's intervention in the New Statesman last week, the commentariat turned up t

Alastair Campbell used an appearance on Newsnight to call on Charles Clarke to stop acting like a newspaper pundit and rally to the cause of the Labour Party. It may be the case that the former Home Secretary's intervention did not lead to open insurrection, but it certainly led to a flurry of further commentary.

Matthew Parris was devastating in The Times on Saturday. For those of us on the centre-left this is his most cutting paragraph:

And yet even outside the formal confines of the Labour movement - in the universities, in the newspapers, in the broadcast media - where are the voices raised from the Left, prepared to acknowledge this spasm, and distinguish between the failure of an individual, and the failure of an ideology? Is Polly Toynbee almost on her own? Has the whole centre left project lost its self-belief, taking refuge only in days, hours and minutes left profitlessly in office?

Actually those voices are everywhere. As a Tory, I wouldn't expect him to hear them. Perhaps Polly Toynbee is the only person on the left Mr Parris listens to or reads. However, this is an article that everyone on the left should read because it is a challenge to us to help save the Labour Party from the impending cataclysm.
Parris could not have known that Polly Toynbee was preparing another broadside, but she chose Saturday for another full-frontal attack on the Prime Minister. From a woman who treated Gordon Brown as a god when he took over a year ago, this is terribly damaging. The title, "Unseating Gordon Brown may be Labour's last hope", pretty much says it all. This is her killer paragraph:

Soon Cameron's lead will be gold-plated, his succession virtually inevitable. Another year effectively unchallenged by Labour, his contradictions and vacuities unridiculed and unexposed, will gift him an almost unopposed victory. Already at conferences the lobby groups and voluntary organisations hang on every word of shadow ministers, yawning through mere ministers on their way out. Already power, money, glamour, foreign interest and attention flock to Cameron in a political tide whose undertow knocks Labour off its feet with every wave.

On Sunday, Matthew d'Ancona was on form in the Telegraph. He has identified the dangerous return of sectarianism in Labour politics:

In the spirit of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Tony Blair is becoming the Emmanuel Goldstein of today's Labour party, the fabricated enemy, and his followers - or imagined followers - the seditious "Brotherhood". Can it be long before huge tele-screens appear in public places to beam out pictures of the grinning former Prime Minister for the daily "Two Minutes Hate"?

John Rentoul was saying the opposite of what you'd expect (as ever) in calling for a show of loyalty from Charles Clarke and other Labour Party critics.
Today Jackie Ashley couldn't bring herself to call for the Prime Minister to go again. Instead, she suggests the beginnings of a way forward, not just for the Labour Party, but for politics in general:

What is needed is the arrival in the Commons of people who have not learned professional politics, have never served as advisers and have no idea what Populus means. Local parties need to start taking risks - I'm not talking about quotas but about sparky individuals, with the odd skeleton, the occasional surprising view. The media has to celebrate different voices and faces where they appear, and not pick on every unexpected remark as a "gaffe". For all that the mainstream media seized on Alastair Darling's pessimistic assessment of the economy as a stupendous own goal, the general public seem to like the fact he "told the truth".

Perhaps not quite the reassessment Matthew Parris is calling for, but hats off to Jackie Ashley for trying.

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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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