50p tax letter business leaders gave £776,000 to the Tories

Of the 24 signatories to the letter attacking Labour's plan to reintroduce the 50p tax rate, eight have donated to the Conservatives.

As headlines go, "High earners sign letter against paying more tax" ranks alongside "Turkeys sceptical ahead of Christmas vote", but that's the essence of the Telegraph's splash today. The paper has published a letter from 24 business leaders declaring that Labour's pledge to reintroduce the 50p tax rate is "a backwards step which would put the economic recovery at risk and would very quickly lead to the loss of jobs in Britain". It reads:

Dear Sir,

We are concerned to see Ed Balls and the Labour Party calling for higher taxes on businesses and business people.

We think that these higher taxes will have the effect of discouraging business investment in the UK.

This is a backwards step which would put the economic recovery at risk and would very quickly lead to the loss of jobs in Britain.

The paper notes that one of the signatories, Richard Caring, the owner of Le Caprice and the Ivy restaurants, has an outstanding £2m loan to Labour but, oddly, doesn't mention the large number of Conservative donors on the list. Of the 24 signatories, eight have donated a total of £776,111 to the Tories. Here, courtesy of the Electoral Commission, are the full details of their donations. 

Richard Caring - £222,000.75

Neil Clifford, Chief Executive, Kurt Geiger - £12,000

Peter Cullum, Executive Chairman, Towergate - £15,000 from Towergate to the Conservative 1922 Committee

Michael Gutman, Chief Executive, Westfield Group - £211,570 from Westfield; Gutman has attended Conservative Leader's Group dinners

Mike Lynch, Chairman, Invoke Capital; Founder, Autonomy - £50,000

Tim Oliver, Founder and Chairman, Hampden - £12,940 from Oliver, £54,600 from Hampden

Paul Walsh - £10,000

Will Wyatt, CEO, Caledonia - £188,000 from Caledonia to Conservative associations/candidates

Total: £776,110.75

Also on the list is Karren Brady, the vice chairman of West Ham, who introduced George Osborne at last year's Conservative conference and was recently appointed as the party's Small Business Ambassador (and is spoken of as a potential London mayoral candidate). 

Why might the Tories not want these details to be known? Because it undermines the intended impression that this letter emerged spontaneously from "independent" business leaders and is suggestive of favours for favours. Few doubt that the ire of Conservative donors over the 50p tax rate was one of the factors that lay behind its abolition by the coalition last April. Indeed, anyone who doubts their influence over Tory policy should read Matthew d'Ancona's In It Together: The Inside Story of the Coalition Government in which it is revealed that David Cameron vetoed the proposed introduction of a mansion tax on the grounds that "our donors would never put up with it". 

After this letter, one wonders whether their next demand will be that the Tories formally pledge to reduce the top rate from 45p to 40p if still in government after the next election (Cameron and Osborne have already hinted that they would like to do so). In his column in today's Telegraph, Boris Johnson writes: "The government should open up some more blue water, and cut the top rate back to 40p."

Finally, while most of the signatories have long opposed the 50p rate, it's worth noting how one of them has changed his tune. Former M&S boss Stuart Rose, the chairman of Ocado, says that the measure would "put at risk all the good work that has been done to put the economy back on track". But back in 2011, before its abolition, he said: "I don't think that they should reduce the income tax rate. How would I explain to my secretary that I am getting less tax on my income, which is palpably bigger than hers, when hers is not going down? If, in the short term, a case was made for me to pay more than 50 per cent tax, which would help UK plc, I personally – Stuart Rose – would be prepared to pay more tax." Since austerity is going to continue for the entirety of the next parliament, it remains to be seen how he will justify this volte-face.

Conservative ministers at the party's conference in Manchester last year. 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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