PMQs sketch: Deputy by default

Will.i.am Hague's promotion that never was.

Is it worth wondering, if only for a moment, how the political career of the Foreign Secretary would have panned out if his parents had called him Will.i.am rather than just William.

Those with long memories might recall how back in the day Hague .W. had tried out for the trendy vote by being photographed wearing a baseball cap.

But this did nothing to prevent him being crushed by the Blair bandwagon and replaced as Tory Party leader by the man with the charisma by-pass, Ian Duncan Smith.

But 20 years is indeed a long time in politics and IDS was amongst those who could only look on as the man who almost never was stood in for the present leader of the Tory Party at PMQs.

Dave had spent the weekend sunning himself in Mexico at the G20 and, as we now know, unsuccessfully dodging the attentions of the formidably-named Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, President of Argentina.

Facing the thought of returning to London for his weekly humiliation at the hands of Ed Miliband at PMQs, the Prime Minister discovered he had important business to do with the President of Mexico.

This should have left the opportunity for humiliation to the Deputy PM Nick Clegg but he apparently found the prospect so grim and the lure of the Americas so great that he too fled the country using climate change as his excuse forb turning up in Rio.

Step forward then the Foreign Secretary who, despite his job title, could not find a suitable reason himself to be out of the country.

To be fair to William Hague, many in his party have spent much of the past years regretting having got shot of him so quickly.

It was part his wit, intelligence and sense of humour, frowned upon in traditional Tory ranks, which led to his downfall first time around. But it is precisely that which so delights them now as they reflect on the failures of the present incumbents.

Indeed, had Dave delivered the victory in 2010 without needing the Lib-Dems, William would have been Deputy PM and Nick would be topping up his tan in Reigate not Rio.

And so it was with some relief that the massed ranks shouted him to his feet at PMQs and it did not take long for one of them to welcome "my choice for Deputy PM" to the Despatch Box with the hope that William would seize the opportunity to cast their Lib-Dem partners into outer darkness.

Dave's absence meant a day off too for Ed M who is traditionally not called on to sully himself with lesser mortals.

As he pottered around his garden, in his place Labour delivered it's own formidably constructed deputy Harriet Harman who, well aware of the Foreign Secretary's debating skills, decided to step gingerly.

William bemoaned the absence of Labour's other Ed, he of the Balls variety, missing the running commentary during PMQs which has won him the coveted "most annoying man in British politics" title from Dave.

But missing too were the looks of fear and trepidation on the faces of Tory MPs which mark most PMQs as Dave tries, and fails, to keep his composure and his temper.

Indeed there was almost a holiday atmosphere on the Government Front Bench as Ministers, jobs secure for this day at least, swapped gossip and imagined life without him.

Ken Clarke positively beamed and onlookers could be forgiven for wondering if he had just woken from a long sleep to find William still in charge and Dave just a nightmare.

With Nick and Dave (not to mention George) all away despite the football, it was hard to imagine anything better.

But just to round the whole thing off nicely up stood Simon Hughes, one of the few senior Lib-Dems not to take the Government's shilling, to address a question to William as "the Deputy Prime Minister".

Mr Hughes is not a fully paid up member of the coalition and stout parties collapsed all round at the hopefully unintended error.

Ever gracious, the Foreign Secretary said he would keep Simon's slip to himself.

But you could probably hear the laughing all the way to Rio.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary. Photo: Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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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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