Image by Dan Murrell
Show Hide image

Commons Condidential: Nige shows his true stripes

Farage looked a bit of a prat in an old boy’s black-and-blue-striped blazer and tie on a return to his alma mater, Dulwich College. 

I’m told self-styled man of the people Nigel Farage looked a bit of a prat in an old boy’s black-and-blue-striped blazer and tie on a return to his alma mater. The smouldering snout watched as the Ukip leader visited Dulwich College, the private school in south London that charges day pupils £17,400 a year. The young Nige was accused by teachers of being a “fascist” and shouting “Hitler Youth songs”. The older Farage denied the allegations, suggesting that lefty teachers were causing trouble.

Farage’s two daughters were in tow and sniggered disloyally when cartoonist Martin Rowson cheekily suggested Farage strip off to be sketched nude. Nigel mercifully declined. I wonder if he’ll wear his Alan Partridge-style old boy’s blazer-and-tie combo when Ukip stages its autumn conference in Doncaster to appeal to working-class northerners.

 

Newly promoted Michael Fallon must feel lucky when he’s chauffeured around town in the Defence Secretary’s tank-sized armoured BMW instead of sharing a Prius in the Business Department. On the eve of the reshuffle, at a defence manufacturers’ shindig, contemplating the pale, male, stale colleagues who were to be mown down as if on the first day of the Somme, Fallon was overheard musing: “They’re all being culled for the girlies.” He’s all heart, Fallon.

 

Old Etonians look after their own. A very grand source whispered that David Cameron has promised his school chum Ed Llewellyn a cushy diplomatic post to reward his chief of staff after next year’s election. The word is that Little Ed is heading for Rome. Her Britannic Majesty’s embassy in the Eternal City, a modern palace designed by Basil Spence, should satisfy even an Old Etonian. The electrical plug sockets are the standard British three-pin, so Llewellyn wouldn’t need to buy adapters.

 

Paranoia cloaked Ed Miliband’s US jaunt in secrecy. Fearful of an Obama brush-off or a trial by hot dog, the party refused to release advance details. Then one of the few hacks invited – BBC politics editor Nick Robinson – pulled out. Heigh-ho.

 

The phantom bike snatcher struck again in the precincts of Westminster, with the theft of Julian Huppert’s transport. The formerly freewheelin’ Lib Dem is co-chair of the all-party parliamentary cycling group and was miffed to turn up with his helmet to find the machine had vanished. Dennis Skinner’s was nicked a few weeks ago, and Miss Marple would notice that both disappeared over weekends. This isn’t the first time Huppert has lost his bike. It was confiscated in 2012 when he didn’t read signs warning that racks were being replaced at Cambridge Station.

 

I saw a tear drip down the cheek of Stephen Hammond when the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, praised his axed roads minister. Hammond is seen as one of the most decent Tories. Maybe that’s why Lizard of Oz Lynton Crosby, who is the real PM, decided he had to go. 

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 23 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double 2014

Getty
Show Hide image

"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. 

0800 7318496