PMQs sketch: Tory tribalism saves the day for Dave

Cameron bashing is a sport restricted to Tory backbenchers, it's not open to the great-unwashed oppo

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Prime Minister's Questions to the democratic process in the United Kingdom and so it seems only right to remark on the grey streaks spotted in the hair of the present incumbent.

This is not to trivialise PMQs since its participants need no help from outsiders iIn this regard but to choose on this birthday from the very short list of subjects of interest which actually occurred.

As ever it was meant to be different .The disemboweling of Dave had been on the menu following his hanging and drawing over Europe on Monday by the many Tory backbenchers who suspect that despite attending Eton he has friends of a non-British variety.

Half of his party had even come back early from dinner for the chance to give him a good kicking over his failure to sort out Johnny Foreigner, not to mention the hump most of them had at not getting on to the Government payroll because of Dave's dalliance with the Lib-Dems.

Now he was due in front of them again before setting off to Brussels for the latest last-ditch meeting of European leaders working out which country is next to go bust.

It was therefore perhaps no surprise that Dave's manly mane should find itself showing signs of political pressure as he turned up in the place of his most recent humiliation for a second unwelcome helping of verbal violence.

He looked unsuprisingly strained as he took his seat for the gala performance. In front of him his enemies in the Labour Party, behind him his enemies in the Tory Party and beside him Nick Clegg. And then he stood up -- and his side cheered and cheered and cheered.

Had they sobered up since Monday night? Had they been told off at home? Had Dave and his enforcers now got all their names and addresses?

Whatever the reason he stood somewhat stunned as the Tory benches exploded with the sort of enthusiasm normally only seen when the Government adopts the latest campaign from the pages of the Daily Mail.

Equally stunned was the Leader of the Opposition who had clearly entered the chamber on a high having spent 48 hours watching the Tory Party doing what Labour excels in -- cutting its own throat.

Fervent Ed-watchers will be forgiven if they find the references to the hair colour of the PM irrelevant to today's proceedings but that is surely only because little mention is made of the grey spot painted onto the front of his hair to give him more gravitas.

He had sat desperate to be let at his foe, excitedly clutching his papers packed with the quotes that showed the Prime Minister was not just out of touch with his party but with his coalition, not to mention the country.

Had not half his party demanded a new deal on Europe and had not the Deputy Prime Minister ruled this out ."Who speaks for the Government?" Ed demanded to know.

"Well, not you", was the clear answer from the Tory back benches as they made it clear that Dave-devouring is a sport restricted to fully paid up members of their party and not open to the great-unwashed opposite.

Ed and his advisers had clearly not factored Tory tribalism into their running order and once again the Tory leader sprang free from the trap.

Indeed newly emboldened Dave said he and his Deputy did share many of the same views leaving Nick with that hapless grin that marks so many of his non-speaking performances at the weekly event.

Ed was "a complete mug" on Europe charged the PM as his own side looked likely to have collective heart attacks of over-excitement. It was as if Monday had never happened. Dave sat down in relief .Ed sat down in confusion.

It may be worth pointing out that this year not only marks the 50th anniversary of the launching of PMQS but also of Grecian 2000. This is not, as you might think, a reference to the Greek sovereign debt but to a hair product. Dave and Ed may want to enquire further.

 

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

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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