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Jeremy Corbyn is still dodging the nuclear question

The Labour leader came close but ultimately refused to say that he would approve the use of nuclear weapons. 

In the general election, the Conservatives aim to shoot to kill. By denouncing Labour as soft on defence, they believe they can win their first landslide victory since 1987 (when they similarly tormented the opposition over this issue).

Jeremy Corbyn's Chatham House speech on foreign policy was partly aimed at neutralising this charge. While reaffirming his opposition to western interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen, he also declared: "I am not a pacifist". Corbyn, who said during the 2015 Labour leadership contest that he could not think of circumstances in which he would approve the use of military force, added: "I accept that military action, under international law and as a genuine last resort, is in some circumstances necessary." Having not given any examples in his speech of wars he supported, Corbyn later cited the UN action in East Timor as one he backed (though did not renounce his opposition to the Sierra Leone and Kosovo interventions).  

It is the gravest act of all - the use of nuclear weapons - that has proved most fraught for Labour in recent times. Though the party's manifesto has committed to Trident renewal, Corbyn, a lifelong unilateralist, has long refused to say whether he would use the UK's arsenal (and, indeed, has said he would not). Shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith, who has said she would, was not invited to the event and did not contribute to drafting the speech (seeing it for the first time at 11pm last night). At her insistence, a manifesto section warning any prime minister to be "extremely cautious about ordering the use of weapons of mass destruction" was removed. 

But in his speech, Corbyn all but repeated it. "I am often asked if as prime minister I would order the use of nuclear weapons," he said. "It’s an extraordinary question when you think about it – would you order the indiscriminate killing of millions of people? Would you risk such extensive contamination of the planet that no life could exist across large parts of the world?" 

He added, however: "Labour is committed actively to pursue disarmament under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and we are committed to no first use of nuclear weapons

But let me make this absolutely clear. If elected prime minister, I will do everything necessary to protect the safety and security of our people and our country. That would be my first duty."

That, however, fell short of explicitly stating he would use nuclear weapons (which Trident supporters regard as essential for deterrence). In the subsequent Q&A, when pressed on whether he would approve a nuclear retaliation, Corbyn limited himself to saying that there were "circumstances" where "military force" would be appropriate. It's hardly surprising that the CND vice-president can't bring himself to say he would use nuclear weapons, but it leaves the Conservatives with room to attack. 

As the event drew to a close, Corbyn was asked whether he supported the full renewal of Trident (encompassing four Vanguard-class submarines). Corbyn noted that while parliament had voted for a like-for-like replacement, Labour would hold a Strategic Defence Review, which he did not wish to pre-empt. Though aides subsequently stated that abolition was not an option, the possibility of downgrading the system remains. Labour's nuclear headache will not end here. 

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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