All hail the Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MBE MP. Montage: Dan Murrell/NS
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Commons Confidential: Lunching with a Latin lover

Plus: why has Red Ed turned a lighter shade of pink?

Rebellion is stirring in the Press Gallery after the introduction of Latin grace before formal lunches with politicians. The BBC Old Etonian James Landale, this year’s chair, replaced the usual mumble about being grateful for pan-fried Gressingham duck or whatever with incantations that few understand. And the TV performer summons reluctant hacks to their feet to listen to his Latin. The immediate target in the battle between traditionalists and modernisers isn’t grace, however. It’s the archaic loyal toast to Her Maj at the end of each meal. The head of the mods, Barney Jones, the editor of The Andrew Marr Show, has requested that the gallery committee cease instructing journalists to raise a glass to unelected power. A few of us stage sit-down protests. We all hope this thorny issue will be resolved without a second Leveson inquiry or state regulation.

Red Ed has turned a lighter shade of pink, passing up an opportunity to speak at the Durham Miners’ Gala in July. Miliband hinted that he’d return before the election two years ago, when he was the first Labour leader to address the “Big Meeting” since Neil Kinnock. Tory taunts about resurrecting Old Labour seem to have frightened him away. On the platform with a general council of trade unionists will be Dennis Skinner. The Beast of Bolsover, an ex-miner and gala favourite, shares none of Miliband’s doubts or fears.

I’m told that Con-Dem spats over knives and school places are merely the opening shots in a coalition civil war. Cabinet ministers on both sides, an informant whispered, have amassed documents to unleash a barrage of leaks against their governing partners. Who needs the Freedom of Information Act when you have parties fighting like ferrets in a sack?

There was sniggering at an invitation to sit in the presence of the chair of the public accounts committee. The billing of the soirée as “an audience with Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MBE MP” prompted her colleagues to wonder aloud if applause for bashing tax dodgers is going to her head. “I know she’s grand but this is ridiculous. I wonder if we have to bow?” muttered my snout. It’s been a long march from socialism at Islington Council to social acceptability as a national treasure.

To Ted Heath’s grand old home Arundells, in the shadow of Salisbury Cathedral. In a selfless act of eternal aggrandisement, the Tory premier bequeathed the pile to the nation as a permanent shrine to himself. The House of Heath has reopened to the public. I learned a previous visitor had bridled as a guide recalled how Grocer Ted wouldn’t give the Daily Mail house room. Lady Rothermere, wife of the Mail owner Viscount Rothermere, was evidently very put out.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

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 14 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Why empires fall

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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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