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France and Britain are living each other's 1997 elections

The early-election-coming-back-to-haunt-you? The French do it better.

A young, charismatic centrist sweeps a general election with a country-wide landslide in support of his liberal manifesto. Across the Channel, a seasoned centre right politician learns the hard way that calling an early election to increase a party’s parliamentary majority can spectacularly backfire.

This sounds like a fair summation of the past few weeks of 2017, but it could just as easily be two decades ago, as long as you're prepared to switch around which country is which.

Politics in France and Britain have always been fundamentally opposed – different systems and constitutions, media cultures and leading figures, not to mention that small event in France when they killed all kings and queens – but in 2017, the two countries’ political developments seem to be mirroring each other. Or what they were, 20 years ago.

Emmanuel Macron has been compared to Tony Blair countless times, and the comparison seems fairly obvious. Just like his New Labour forerunner, the Europhile “Gallic Blair” has seduced the electorate, revolutionised his country’s politics, and is heading for a parliamentary majority that will allow him to comfortably push for his modernist reforms.

The real Blair even went so far as to send him his best wishes in a Le Monde column after Macron’s win in May. “Great exploit!” Blair wrote, offering his advice: “Focus on the most important matters, make sure measures have a real impact.” Macron (who has also been compared to John F Kennedy, Napoléon and Nicolas Sarkozy) is said to have enjoyed the compliment.

But Britain, has also been imitating 1997 French politics. In April 1997, as Jacques Chirac's centre right party RPR (now Les Républicains) controlled a vast majority in parliament and faced little opposition, the French president decided to dissolve the Assemblée Nationale and call a legislative election one year early, to gain a bigger majority in parliament and implement a series of reforms that autumn.

You can guess what happened next: it was a massive self-own, of the kind we've just seen from Theresa "strong and stable" May. In June 1997, the Socialist Party won 44 per cent of the vote, giving it a majority in the house and putting it far ahead of the 24 per cent secured by Chirac’s RPR. Instead of a strong-ish and stable-ish deal with the DUP, president Chirac was forced to recalibrate his government and to name a Socialist as his new prime minister, Lionel Jospin, in the “cohabitation”, the French version of the hung parliament.

Ironically, the move was also supposed to help Chirac carry out a referendum concerning the European Union, specifically about the euro. Perhaps David Cameron and Theresa May should have spent a little longer studying 1990s French 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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