Not all that glitters is gold. Photo: Getty Images
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Jeremy Corbyn's message looks great - but check the small print

Politics is the art of the possible. Jeremy Corbyn offers the implausible, warns Chris Leslie. 

There’s no doubt about it – the Labour Party has reached a fork in the road and on 12 September the fate of the progressive centre-left in Britain will be sealed. There are millions whose living standards and working conditions depend on Labour winning government in 2020 to fight for power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many not the few. If we get this wrong, the Tories could be in office for a generation. So I urge Labour members to think incredibly carefully and look at the detail before they cast their vote.

The superficial appeal of those on the hard left may be tempting at one level; big bold rhetoric presents a ‘clear choice’ to motivate the currently unenthused. But we have a duty to scrutinise the consequences of those policies being espoused with such sweeping certainty. Take, for example, the proposal for a ‘People’s Quantitative Easing’ where the Bank of England is instructed to use QE to directly finance infrastructure and public service projects. At one level it sounds so easy – if there’s a shortage of money, just print some more!

But ending the Bank of England’s independence and reversing one of Labour’s most enduringly successful reforms would risk a major hike in lending rates, taking money away from schools and hospitals as debt servicing becomes more expensive.  And resorting to the printing press to artificially create money for public expenditure purposes would be a major distortion for the economy. Such a new monetarism would spark higher inflation and make it harder for those on lower incomes to afford goods and services, provoking a rise in mortgage rates to counteract the effect. You can’t magically abolish the deficit with printed money and expect zero repercussions for the least well-off and those already struggling with loans and debts.

Of course there’s always more to be done to clamp down on tax avoidance. But if you base your economic policy by vastly over-estimating the amount you can get from tax loopholes, you cannot deliver on the promises you are making. The people in need of real help will be the ones who pay the price.

It is vital the policy options being proposed are rigorous and can stand up to scrutiny. Labour members must not choose a Leader only to discover they have backed a policy agenda whose small print could end up hurting the very people we want to stand up for.

It is true that the Tories have used this period to shrink levels of public investment under the guise of deficit eradication. But that doesn’t mean there is anything ‘left wing’ about wanting to run a deficit in perpetuity. In fact, for those of us who believe in the virtues of collectively purchased public services, we have a duty to prove that the state can be a sound steward of taxpayer resources. If we fail to show we can live within our means in the long run, taxpayers will lose confidence in the pooling of collectively providing health, education or policing – and they will increasingly lose faith the public realm. Any Labour Leader who thinks budgets can always be in the red will discover taxpayers are distinctly unimpressed by the idea – and that Leader will in turn be responsible for permanently damaging the coalition of support we need to sustain decent levels of public investment.

Economic credibility isn’t just about winning elections – it is about securing the resources we need to invest in public services, improve education and abolish child poverty. It is about retaining public consent for the collective pursuit of those ambitions. And ill-considered policies that drive up the cost of living and inflation will hurt the poorest people in society.

Britain needs a credible Labour Prime Minister, not the Tories in government for a generation. Labour members must weigh up carefully what is now at stake.

Chris Leslie is chair of Labour’s backbench Treasury Committee and was shadow Chancellor in 2015. 

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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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