David Cameron and Angela Merkel at the EU Council building in Brussels on October 25, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron only has himself to blame for the Tories' alliance with Merkel's enemy

The PM's decision to withdraw the Tories from the mainstream European People's Party made it inevitable that his party would form eurosceptic partnerships. 

David Cameron fought hard to stop the eurosceptic Germany party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) from being admitted to the Tory-led European Conservatives and Reformists group. The PM's hopes of a successful EU renegotiation depend on Angela Merkel and the German Chancellor was understandably appalled by the possibility of the Tories teaming up with a right-wing rival to the Christian Democrats (the closest thing Germany has to Ukip). 

But in defiance of Cameron's wishes, the group has voted to admit them, with some Conservative MEPs supporting the move. The latest arrival means that the ECR is now the third-largest bloc in the European Parliament, but that will be of no consolation to Cameron. His MEPs have shamlessly defied his authority and further weakened his standing with Merkel (already dented by his "threats" over Jean-Claude Juncker's bid to become EU commission president).

The line from Conservative HQ is that they are "very disappointed" that AfD (which opposes the euro and the US-EU free trade agreement) have been admitted against their wishes and that "the CDU/CSU remains our only sister party in Germany". But while that may be true, Merkel would be within her rights to conclude that she can't do business with a man who can't control his party. 

It's a point that Labour has been quick to make, with shadow Europe minister Gareth Thomas commenting:

This shows just how far David Cameron is being pushed around by his own party when it comes to Europe. We know he can’t control his Eurosceptic backbenchers on Europe, and now it seems he’s lost control of his MEPs too.

Just when the Prime Minister needs to maximise British influence in Europe, his MEPs have instead chosen to isolate themselves to the fringes of Europe and alienate our allies.

What started as a political management problem for David Cameron risks turning into a crisis between Britain and one of our most crucial European allies.

David Cameron can’t control his party over Europe, and now it is Britain’s influence and standing in Europe that is at risk of being undermined as a result. 

But while Cameron will do all he can to distance himself from the results, the truth is that he only has himself to blame (as Nick Tyrone has previously argued on The Staggers). His decision to withdraw the Conservatives from the mainstream European People's Party in 2009 made it inevitable that his MEPs and others would seek partnership with eurosceptic fringe parties (some, such as the xenophobic Danish People's Party, well to the right of the AfD). 

That move was the fulfilment of a pledge made by Cameron during the 2005 Conservative leadership election to appease eurosceptic MPs. But as so often, concessions designed to strengthen his hand have only succeeded in weakening it. 

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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