Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference on March 21, 2014 in Perth, Scotland. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour's left and right are growing restive

The right want Ed Miliband to be more "pro-business". The left want him to abandon austerity. His challenge is to hold the centre. 

In the opening years of the parliament, when growth was stagnant and unemployment was rising, Labour could reliably score points at the government's expense. But the strength of the belated economic recovery means it is now much harder to do so. After abandoning its attack on the coalition for cutting "too far, too fast", Labour has profited in the last year from its relentless focus on living standards. But the return of wage rises means that the potency of this attack is likely to diminish between now and the election (even if, for many, the squeeze goes on). With the Tories ahead in the polls on leadership and managing the economy, two reliable long-term indicators of the general election result, and Labour's headline lead far slimmer than a year ago, MPs are growing increasingly uneasy about the party's message. One former shadow cabinet minister told me: "People still don't have a clear idea of what we would do differently in government. We're not generating the enthusiasm we need a year before an election." 

In the last day, two other former shadow ministers have broken cover. From the party's right, former business minister Pat McFadden told Newsnight: "I want to see a Labour Party that takes wealth creation every bit as seriously as its fair distribution. I’m all for justice and fairness in the work place. But you have got to create wealth too." This echoed what Alan Milburn wrote in the FT on Monday when he called for "Labour to embrace a more avowedly pro-business agenda and match it with a more overtly pro-business tone. The Eds need to say it and look like they really mean it." Their fear is that while empathising with the public's anger over extortionate prices and stagnant wages, Labour will look as if it doesn't have the answers required for the hard work of government. 

From the party's left comes a different message. In an article for the Guardian yesterday, Diane Abbott took aim at Ed Balls over his decision to match the coalition's spending levels in 2015-16 and to embrace policies such as a cap for welfare spending. She wrote: "Party members might well ask, in between knocking on doors trying to persuade people to come out and vote in the May elections, what is the Labour leadership's plan to restore confidence in our economic leadership? Balls has a plan. He just does not feel able to spell it out to party members. It is called embracing Tory austerity...And the problem with restoring Labour's reputation for economic management is that we have allowed the coalition to frame the debate."

And concluded: "If we accept the coalition cuts agenda, there will be another £25bn worth of public spending cuts needed after the 2015 election. They will be the deepest since 1948. It is difficult to see how a Labour government that implemented cuts on that scale could last more than one term. So the urgency of framing an alternative to coalition austerity is not just about one month's polls. It is about the long-term survival of an incoming Labour government." For Abbott and the left, the danger is that Labour's fails to represent a genuine alternative to Conservative austerity, leaving voters with little incentive to turn out next May. 

But for others, the danger is not that Labour appears too committed to austerity but that it still appears too profligate. One self-described shadow cabinet "hawk" recently told me that the party needed to "shout much more loudly" about its pledges to eliminate the current deficit and reduce the national debt (as a share of GDP) by the end of the parliament. "We've got tough targets but no one knows about them," he lamented.

For Ed Miliband, the challenge is to hold the centre. His mantra remains that Labour must offer both "credibility" and "radicalism". Unless it commits to tough policies in areas such as public spending, voters won't trust it with the reins of government. But unless it also offers a distinctive alternative to the coalition, they won't believe that it can make a difference - and will stick with the devil that they know.

To this end, while promising to continue public spending cuts, Labour has pledged to freeze energy prices, to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020, to abolish the bedroom tax, to reintroduce the 50p tax rate and to guarantee work for all young people unemployed for more than a year and all adults unemployed for more than two. Similarly radical policies on childcare, social care, tuition fees and transport are likely to follow. But as concern over the nature of Labour's offer grows, the party will find it harder than ever to keep its nerve. 

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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