Nick Clegg arrives at the BBC studios ahead of his second debate with Nigel Farage over EU membership on April 02, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour demands investigation into Clegg's special adviser Ryan Coetzee

Party writes to Jeremy Heywood asking whether Coetzee's involvement in Lib Dem election strategy has breached the special advisers' code of conduct.

After previously gunning for the Conservatives' election campaign chief Lynton Crosby over his links to the tobacco industry, Labour has found a new target in the form of Nick Clegg's director of strategy Ryan Coetzee. The former South African MP, who took up the post in September 2012, is often compared with Crosby but unlike him is paid entirely from the public purse (earning £110,000 a year). It is this that Labour has taken issue with, noting his involvement in Liberal Democrat election strategy and private polling for the party. The special advisers' code of conduct states that "special advisers should not use official resources for party political activity".

Clegg said at his monthly press conference yesterday: "We’ve done it by the book and it’s not unusual for politicians in government to get support on what are the main concerns of the British public and how can we address them in government. That’s exactly what we’re doing."

A Lib Dem spokesman said: "A key part of his role as director of strategy is to ensure that all government messaging strictly reflects the Lib Dems and Lib Dem priorities. He is a special adviser so he is paid out of public funds. The salaries are all transparent and published on the internet."

But those answers haven't satisfied Labour with MP Sheila Gilmore writing to cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood demanding that he investigate whether the code of conduct may have been broken. Here's her letter in full.

Dear Sir Jeremy,

 

Following reports that Mr Ryan Coetzee, Special Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister, is employed to work on the Liberal Democrats’ election planning and has been conducting political polling on their behalf, I am writing to express the concern that his actions may be in breach of the Special Advisers Code of Conduct, and to ask you to investigate.

 

As you will know, the Special Advisers’ Code of Conduct states:

 

‘Special advisers should not use official resources for party political activity. They are employed to serve the objectives of the Government and the Department in which they work. It is this which justifies their being paid from public funds and being able to use public resources, and explains why their participation in party politics is carefully limited…They should avoid anything which might reasonably lead to the criticism that people paid from public funds are being used for party political purposes.’

 

The Code of Conduct for Special Advisers, Cabinet Office, 2010, p.3

 

If Mr Coetzee is working on issues concerning the Liberal Democrats’ election strategy rather than the objectives of the Cabinet Office, where he is employed on the public payroll, this would appear a breach of the code.

 

In recognition of the importance of upholding public trust in political appointments, I hope that you will be able to confirm beyond all doubt that the code has not been broken and will in particular be able to answer the following questions:

 

-          Could you specify what political activity has been undertaken by Mr Coetzee on behalf of the Liberal Democrats during his time employed as Special Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister, and in each instance what steps were taken to ensure the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers was followed?

 

-          What polling exercises has Mr Coetzee conducted in his capacity as Special Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister to which public funds were committed?

 

-          How many meetings has Mr Coetzee attended at Liberal Democrat Offices in Great George St during his period employed in his capacity as Special Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister, at what times and dates, and what steps have been taken to ensure the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers has been followed?

 

It would rightly be extremely concerning if the Liberal Democrats were exploiting public resources and the important role played by Special Advisers to further party political interests rather than government objectives.

 

I look forward to your response.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

Sheila Gilmore

 

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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