Miliband attacks the coalition from the right

Labour leader shifts rhetoric and targets the coalition's record on crime.

Here's a rare sight: Ed Miliband attacking the coalition from the right. The Labour leader launched his party's local election campaign in Birmingham today and targeted the government's record on crime:

And when it comes to keeping our communities safe, look what this Tory-led government are doing. Taking 16,000 police officers off the streets.

Ditching ASBOs.

How out touch can you get?

It's a notable rhetorical shift. In his first speech as Labour leader, Miliband was at pains to endorse the coalition's break with Blair-Brown authoritarianism:

When I disagree with the government, as on the deficit, I will say so loud and clear and I will take the argument to them.

But when Ken Clarke says we need to look at short sentences in prison because of high re-offending rates, I'm not going to say he's soft on crime.

When Theresa May says we should review stop and search laws to prevent excessive use of state power, I'm not going to say she is soft on terrorism.

Of the much-maligned ASBO, Miliband said: "ASBOs aren't perfect, but I have had too many people in my constituency in tears about their neighbours from hell to think that the solution is to just scrap ASBOs altogether."

ASBOs were a valuable political tool for New Labour but they were also blunt and largely ineffective. Of the 20,231 ASBOs issued between 2000 and 2010, 56.5 per cent (11,432) were breached at least once, with 8,492 (42 per cent) of these breached more than once. Unsurprisingly, then, only eight per cent of voters believe ASBOs have been successful in curbing anti-social behaviour. And with each ASBO costing around £3,000 to issue, the cost of failure is high.

Miliband's response, however, isn't to argue for their abolition but for further powers for the police. In a piece in today's Daily Mirror, he suggests that offenders should be frog-marched back to their victims in order to apologise. "When offenders have to confront the consequences of their crimes, they understand the damage they have caused," he writes.

There's a whiff of populism about Miliband's proposal - one is reminded of Tony Blair's short-lived plan for drunken teenagers to be frog-marched to cash points to pay on-the-spot fines - but this is fertile territory for Labour. As Blair never tired of reminding his party, it is working-class Labour voters who are the biggest victims of crime. With the coalition's cuts set to reduce police numbers by 20 per cent, expect Labour to focus relentlessly on this subject.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said scrapping ASBOs was not the solution. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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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