Back to school: Douglas Carswell arrives for his first day in parliament as a Ukip MP. Photo: Getty
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Commons Confidential: The Ukip One bags a place among the left-wing firebrands

Tory turncoat Douglas Carswell has opted to sit in the Commons chamber on the front bench below the gangway populated by the socialist heckler tendency.

Fun and games between Labour’s awkward squad and the Ukip One. Since his triumph in Clacton for the Purple Shirts, Tory turncoat Douglas Carswell has opted to sit in the Commons chamber on the front bench below the gangway populated by the socialist heckler tendency.

Predictably, the Ukip squatter’s presence isn’t embraced by the left-wing firebrands. My snout muttered that Scouse brickie Steve Rotheram had told Carswell, “Eff off out of my seat,” when the interloper occupied the Liverpool lad’s usual place. The fund speculator is square-jawed but, perhaps wisely, he shuffled across the bench. Touchingly, Carswell, an obsessive Europhobe, is behaving like the proverbial German tourist, rising before dawn to lay a towel on a pool sunlounger. He was seen arriving shortly after the doors open at 7am to bag a specific seat by slotting a prayer card into a brass holder. This tussle could get tasty. There’s talk in the Labour ranks of getting up before Carswell to nab all the slots and squeeze out the Herman Munster lookalike.

Carswell is hoping for a Ukip reinforcement in Mark Reckless, another Tory defector. That Rochester and Strood is a two-horse race between the official Conservatives of David Cameron’s fracturing party and the Tory provisional wing formed by Nigel Farage is causing angst in Labour ranks. The party threw in the red towel before a Kentish vote was cast. Labour won 28.5 per cent in 2010 and is going through the motions instead of plotting to squeeze ahead of the Cons and Kippers.

Labour activist Luke Akehurst, formerly of the party’s governing National Executive Committee, an ex-councillor and twice a parliamentary candidate, was summoned by Ed Miliband’s spin doctor Bob Roberts for a bollocking. His crime was calling publicly for Labour to try to win Rochester. The workers, disunited, will always finish third.

I bring you fresh evidence of a class divide in the Palace of Westminster. A sign taped to a wall outside the chamber betrays a touch of Downton Abbey. Staff below stairs – industrial Johnnies and Jennies preventing the old building from falling down – are warned to mind their Ps and Qs: “Please refrain from using loud, boisterous language.” Shouldn’t John Bercow, the Lord Grantham of parliament, stick the notice in the rowdy chamber?

Who was the male MP spied slipping into a private health clinic in London specialising in Botox injections? The hat pulled down over his eyes didn’t fool everybody.

And was that Euan Blair spotted in central lobby? Unfortunately, my informant didn’t hang around to see who Son of Tony met. Cue fresh speculation about a safe Labour seat. 

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 22 October 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Why Britain and Germany aren't natural enemies

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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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