Andy Burnham speaks at the Labour conference in Brighton last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Exclusive: Andy Burnham: I'm prepared to rebel against Labour over HS2

The shadow health secretary says the party "can’t have a blanket position" because "it doesn’t affect everybody equally".

After Ed Balls threatened to withdraw support from High Speed 2 (HS2) last year, Labour has recently moved to a more supportive position, with Ed Miliband recruiting the project's original architect Andrew Adonis to advise him on the issue. During the debate last year on the preparation bill, shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh described Labour as "the true friends of HS2" and declared that "it will fall to the next Labour government – on time and on budget." When asked last month whether both main parties were now committed to the scheme, its chief David Higgins said: "I think so, yes. We’ve certainly got a good line of communication with both sides of the government and the opposition."

But one shadow cabinet minister who retains huge concerns is Andy Burnham. In an interview with me for tomorrow's New Statesman, the shadow health secretary refuses to rule out rebelling against the Labour whip if changes were not made. "It comes right through my constituency [Leigh] and it’s made me look at it in a very hardheaded way," he explained, complaining of an "absolutely massive depot" on what is "currently green space". He added:

I’ve given no guarantees about supporting it. I’m not talking as a frontbencher here, I’m talking as the MP for Leigh. I will not let my constituents carry on paying through their taxes for the rail network when they don’t have reasonable access to it. It’s as simple as that. If the government’s going to lay new railtrack in my constituency, it can bloody well give us a station.

When I asked how he would respond if the government did not meet his demands, he suggested that the party would have to suspend collective responsibility and allow him to vote against HS2.

If they don’t look again at the depot, I’d have to say to my own whips: 'everyone's constituency is going to be affected differently and everyone’s going to have to account. You can’t have a blanket position because it doesn’t affect everybody equally does it?’

Whether the Labour whips would take such an emollient view is doubtful.

For several reasons, the party remains more likely than not to support HS2. The first is that many of its northern and midlands MPs (as well as councillors and trade union leaders) are committed to the project and have warned Miliband that withdrawing support would damage the party's standing in these regions. Indeed, it was their comments in a private meeting that prompted the Labour leader to end the ambiguity over the party's position before the vote last year.

The second is the threat by David Cameron to cancel the project if Labour comes out against it. As he said last year: "It [HS2] does have all-party support. We supported it in opposition when Labour were in Government; Labour support it today, as I understand it, now we are in government; the Liberal Democrat party support it as well. And that is all to the good because these multi-year, multi-parliament infrastructure projects, they can’t go ahead without all-party support – you won’t get the investment, you can’t have the consistency." The abandonment of the project would allow the Tories and the Lib Dems to suggest their own uses for the £50bn budget, reducing the political advantage to Labour.

The third is that, as one senior strategist told me, Labour wants to be seen as a party that champions infrastructure investment (which Balls has left room to borrow for) and cancelling HS2 would send out the wrong signal. In order to display its commitment to fiscal responsibility, it is far better to bear down on current spending.

But Burnham's concerns, which are shared by shadow cabinet members including Balls, Yvette Cooper and Michael Dugher, show the potential for division as the party decides whether to give its final blessing to the project before the general election.

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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