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Avoiding a snap election helps Theresa May - and George Osborne, too

The political interests of Theresa May and the man she sacked as Chancellor may align, for once. 

If she’s said it once, she’s said it a thousand times: there will not be an early election. Downing Street has once again moved to quell speculation that Theresa May will U-Turn on her pledge to see out the remaining three years of David Cameron’s term.

That decision locks the Prime Minister into three years in which her agenda will be frustrated repeatedly and her administration will likely become synonymous with the word “U-Turn”. Though, as I explain in this morning’s email, not all of those issues will go away with a bigger Conservative majority, and the damage to Theresa May’s reputation, whether deserved or not, for caution and an aversion to game-playing, is probably a greater loss in the long term than anything she won’t be able to pass these next three years.

There’s also a bigger win to be had by holding the election on 7 May 2020: the London mayoralty. Although Sadiq Khan runs ahead of Jeremy Corbyn as far as his popularity in the polls is concerned, as I explained at the time, as far as actual votes were concerned, he did about as well as a generic Labour candidate did on the night. Khan did best among young, educated professionals, ethnic minorities and middle-class public sector workers. That, before the wasting effect of the referendum and Corbyn’s decision to whip his MPs in support of triggering Article 50, is basically the Corbyn coalition in a nutshell.

There were only two areas in which Khan could be said to have outrun Jeremy Corbyn in 2016: among Jewish voters, who rejected Labour at local elections held on the same day but who swung back to Khan; and in his home seat of Tooting, where he enjoyed a “native son” bounce. So if Labour do worse in 2020 than they did in 2016, there is reason to believe that Khan is in trouble. Indeed, every poll since 2017 has shown Labour way behind in London not only on their 2016 performance but their 2015 one as well.

Adding to Khan's difficulties, Labour constituencies got closer to their general election turnouts than Conservative ones did, on the whole. A London mayoral race fought on general election turnout probably helps his Tory challenger, though the effects are marginal.

Khan’s hope will be that he can do across the city in 2020 what he did in Tooting in 2016 – massively outrun a generic Labour candidate on the strength of his personal vote. Performing as well as a generic Labour candidate outside Tooting was enough to win in 2016 - it almost certainly won't be in 2020. 

But that gets harder if the mayoral election is held on the same day as the general one, not least because the evidence from other local elections held on the same day is that people tend to vote for the top of the ticket and then vote across the same party line across their remaining ballots. That has hurt third parties and defeated oppositions on general election day before. (Not least Labour in 2015, where the party lost seats at a local level as well as a parliamentary one.)

After the 2007 Scottish elections, when elections to the Scottish Parliament and to local authorities were held on the same day, causing confusion and chaos, it was ruled that it was best practice to hold contests with different electoral systems on different days. (That’s why the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland have had their terms extended to five years not four, so they will not coincide with elections to Westminster.) But there’s no legal obligation to do this, so expected the Conservatives to do whatever best suits their interests.

Sadiq Khan’s best approach is to carve out a bigger personal brand for himself, in the hope of winning over enough people who will vote Conservative at Westminster but like him at City Hall.

But there’s an obstacle to that, too: George Osborne. The Conservative MP now edits London’s only newspaper, the Evening Standard, and may fancy a crack at the top job himself.

So Sadiq Khan’s path to victory in 2020 is narrower than the bookies’ odds suggest. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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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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