Why "badly wounded" Fox remains a problem for Cameron

Tory backbenchers hope ex-Defence Secretary will help fight Liberal Democrat "nonsense".

One of the reasons it was said that David Cameron was reluctant to get rid of Liam Fox -- even when the weight of evidence was stacked against the now ex-Defence Secretary -- was a fear that Fox could cause trouble on the backbenches. A standard bearer of the party's right -- "the most influential Thatcherite in the Government", in the words of this morning's Telegraph -- Fox could provide the leadership disgruntled Tories crave.

Will he?

Nick Robinson, the BBC Political Editor, told the Today Programme this morning that he thought that was unlikely because Fox has been "quite badly wounded" by the events of the past week. That's true and there will be further embarrassment when the results of Gus O'Donnell's inquiry into the Adam Werritty affair are published early next week -- but wounds heal and Fox may yet offer a rallying point around which the Tory right can gather.

That's certainly the hope of Peter Bone, MP for Wellingborough and an influential member of the backbench 1922 Committee.

Speaking just before Robinson on Radio 4, Bone said that the "silver lining" of Fox's exit is that the Tory backbenches had got stronger. Fox, he said, would help "move the coalition government in a certain direction". Asked to define that direction he said:

Unfortunately because of the coalition government Conservative policies are being held back and the Prime Minister has his arms tied behind his back half the time by the Liberals . . . I'm there to help [Cameron] by pushing the government towards Conservative policies and stop some of the Liberal nonsense we have.

He clearly believes Fox will be there to support him in this endeavour.

(Bone has form when it comes to taking on the Prime Minister, or "helping" him as he suggests here. When, in May 2010, Cameron tried to reform the 1922 Committee by allowing frontbench involvement, Bone led the very personal charge against the new Prime Minister. "You wouldn't get away with that in an African state," he said of the proposal. When 118 backbenchers rebelled, Cameron backed down -- it was his first U-turn coming just 14 days after he entered number 10.)

Back to today's Telegraph editorial:

Thatcherite Tories already felt under-represented in a Government led by a Macmillanite Old Etonian; Mr Cameron must be careful that, with Dr Fox on the back benches, this wing of his party does not become even more isolated.

The paragraph ends:

Equally, Dr Fox should have the good sense and the good grace to support the Coalition and not allow himself to become a focal point for Tory discontent.

It will be interesting see which Liam Fox re-emerges in a few months time.

A couple of months before last year's election, the New Statesman listed the ten people on the right Cameron should fear. Number five on that list was Fox. We wrote:

Though it is unlikely he will overtly undermine Cameron while remaining on the front bench, Fox sees himself as a possible future leader, and would certainly stand next time there is a vacancy. In the meantime, he is a danger to the party's leadership because he will seek to pull it further to the right.

Incidentally, Ladbrokes is offering 25/1 on the former Defence Secretary becoming the next prime minister.

 

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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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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