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Commons Confidential: lunching with losers

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

Dazed and angry Tory survivors are swapping tales of colleagues who never made it back to parliament, cut down by reckless Theresa May’s friendly fire. Top of the blue-on-blue casualty list is the loyalist Jason McCartney, who lost Colne Valley by 915 votes to Labour’s retired teacher Thelma Walker.

The former RAF officer boasted of his fight to save Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. He marched, spoke at meetings, held a debate in the Commons and even raised the threat at Prime Minister’s Questions. So McCartney’s molten fury was understandable when hapless May tipped up in West Yorkshire to denounce “scaremongering” about NHS cuts. Tory colleagues whimper that he privately blames May’s ignorance for his defeat. Her supposed mastery of detail was as overspun as the competency.

While May was destroying the Tories, the Jezza bounce boosted Labour MPs who failed to topple him. The majority jumped 13.4 per cent to 14,477 in Stockport for Ann Coffey, who, with Margaret Hodge (up 10.1 per cent to 21,608 in Barking), tabled last summer’s no-confidence vote. Coffey surprised a young constituent enthused by the Elderly Comrade, I hear, dismissing an unaffordable manifesto, slating Corbyn and predicting a May win. The bemused lad still voted Labour.

How ironic that the fate of the vanquished blue prince Ben “Son of John” Gummer was sealed by an absence of high-profile visits to Ipswich. He basked in the title of most powerful minister we had never heard of. My Suffolk snout reports miffed locals felt unloved by Tories they had heard of as they returned Gummer, Jr to deserved obscurity and impotence.

The Brexit Action Man David Davis is on manoeuvres at home and abroad, with the SAS reservist tipped as bumptious Boris Johnson’s broken-nosed rival for the May Queen’s crown. Davis marches on his stomach, enjoying a leisurely lunch at a Westminster restaurant only days before the election. DD wasn’t alone in believing a thumping Tory victory was on a plate.

Over at the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre the Queen-maker prepared a triumphant Union Jack front page with the headline, “Now let’s get on with Brexit”. The 10pm exit poll saw the splash spiked at 10.02. Dacre departed the office shortly afterwards.

Bad news is good news for George Osborne. The Tory avenger informed ITV that he would leave the election-night show by 3am for a kip before editing London’s freesheet. Osborne asked to stay on with Ed Balls when he realised May was flopping. This is personal, not political.

Asked on the stump if he would return to British politics, David Miliband was overheard replying, “Only if I’m wanted.” That’s a no, then.

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel

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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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