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In this week's magazine | The New Times

A first look at this week's issue.

A Special issue:
The New Times
23 - 29 September 2016

With

David Miliband: Corbyn’s strategy is undesirable. Labour must look forward and place values above doctrine.

WITH Lisa Nandy John Gray Jason Cowley
David Runciman Philip Collins Vince Cable John Harris
Ros Wynne-Jones Neal Lawson Charles Leadbeater
Paul Mason Tom Kibasi Marc Stears Rob Ford
Gary Gerstle Mariana Mazzucato John Bew Nick Pearce

Plus

Helen Lewis: Are we ready for English nationalism?

Syria Notebook: Jeremy Bowen reports from a deserted Aleppo.

The Diary: Dylan Jones on spying on the spies, Theresa May’s fashion charm offensive and how Sadiq stole hearts.

View from Russia: Jana Bakunina on what this month’s parliamentary elections say about Putin’s popularity.

Roger Mosey on James Purnell – the man tipped to become the next head of BBC Radio.

Tanya Gold watches BBC2’s Inside British Vogue – a glimpse into the fashion abyss.

Barbara Speed: How YouTubers saved British book publishing.

Kevin Maguire’s Commons Confidential: Last-ditch efforts by Owen Smith’s campaign fall on deaf ears.

 

****

Special Issue on the New Times: The crisis of the left.

David Miliband: Forward – not “bring back”.

The former foreign secretary David Miliband leads contributions to a special “New Times” edition of the New Statesman on Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left.

Miliband attacks Jeremy Corbyn’s political strategy and describes it as “undesirable”. The former contender for the Labour leadership also warns that Brexit has created traps for progressive politics and highlighted structural weaknesses in the left. He argues that Labour has moved from mainstream to margins not because of a series of accidents, but through a series of choices. He urges the party to renew itself – as it has done after previous periods in the wilderness – and to put values above doctrine:

Brexit creates significant new challenges for the British left. It torpedoes some great gains, making discretionary various social, political, economic and environmental rights that have become mandatory over the past two generations. And it creates a whole new series of traps for progressive politics.

But Brexit also reflects the weakness of the left in the UK. In fact, Brexit was only possible because of Labour’s shift over the past ten years from a powerful governing majority to a secondary influence on national decision-making. The future of the left is about more than Labour, and about more than parliamentary representation, but only if we understand this shift can the challenges of Brexit be addressed.

Ten years ago Labour in Britain defined the contours of political debate. We had won three elections on the trot and the Tories felt the need to dance to our tunes – from the minimum wage to tripling of overseas aid to gay rights to boosting the National Health Service. Now Labour sits a long way from power, even before boundary changes. The ultimate ignominy of not being able to organise our own party conference has been avoided, but we have not been further from power since the 1930s.

The shift from the mainstream to the margins has not been the product of a series of unfortunate accidents. That would be a reason for sorrow. Yet frustration or anger is more appropriate, because the political situation of Labour is the product of a series of choices. Some of them have been small, others large, but together they have turned the party inwards rather than outwards, looking to the past rather than to new ideas, resting on easy rhetoric rather than taking hard decisions – and above all seeking to distance ourselves from our time in government, rather than building on it, in terms of both policy content and political culture and dynamic.

The party has ended up pre-New Labour in policy and culture, when we need to be post-New Labour. This year’s leadership election has spent a lot of time debating how to “bring back” various lost icons, such as nationalised railways, rather than focusing on new ideas for the future.

The main charge against Jeremy Corbyn is not just that his strategy is undesirable because it makes the party unelectable. That is only half the story. The real issue is that his strategy makes the party unelectable because it is in many aspects undesirable.

This is true most egregiously with regard to foreign policy. The half-hearted message about Europe is a betrayal of millions of working people. The equivocation on Nato in the face of Russia’s intimidation of nations in her former sphere of influence is dangerous and throws away progressive values.

But the electorate can see through the domestic policy, too. Nationalisation cannot be the answer to everything; anti-austerity speeches cannot explain everything; corporate taxation cannot pay for everything. It doesn’t add up. It wouldn’t work. People are not stupid.

There is one other element that is not only undesirable, but disastrous. It is the critique that everyone who disagrees with Jeremy Corbyn is in fact a closet Tory – or “Tory lite”. The US Republicans have a similar problem, with anyone to the left of the hard right called “Rino”, meaning “Republican In Name Only”.

The “Tory lite” allegation starts with a fact: government involves compromise. It then fashions an explanation: that the compromise is based on bad motives. It then develops a theory: that the trajectory of our country has been unchanged by Labour government since the Thatcher years. It then creates a new version of history: there is no difference between Labour and Tory governments. This is the sectarianism that leads to the dead end of permanent opposition.

The truth is that global markets, or “turbocapitalism”, are rewriting the rules in the economy and beyond. The extremes of income, wealth, innovation, degradation, inspiration, cruelty and humanity of this, the first period in history of truly global capitalism, are reflected in our politics. Globalisation has created inequalities of income, wealth and power that challenge the traditional answers of the centre left. And globalisation has challenged social norms in a way that has broken the back of the traditional centre right.

So the left needs to renew itself in the same way as during three previous periods in the wilderness – first in the 1930s, then in the 1950s, then in the 1980s/1990s. Each time three questions were defining. Only when the left found the right answer to all three did it become a party of government.

The first question is whether the left puts values above doctrine. In other words, is it dogmatic about ends (values) or means (doctrine)? When Labour becomes trapped by policy positions, it loses, because the public thinks it puts dogma above ideals. When it puts values in the driving seat –what is sometimes called “ethical socialism” – then policy imagination is the result. When it is willing to use markets and the voluntary sector as well as the state as agents of change, the left in Britain and around Europe has shown the capacity not only to win the confidence of the public but also to change the country. This is especially important when politics is in such flux. Theresa May’s nods towards a more equal society show the power of our values. But the public wants new and effective ideas to achieve them.

The second question is whether the left has policies for wealth creation as well as fair distribution. This is especially important today because there is so much evidence that inequality is economically inefficient. But tackling inequality is necessary, yet not sufficient to grow the economy. The former US treasury secretary Larry Summers’s work on “secular stagnation” shows the demand-side and supply-side dangers facing the global economy. Policy development is vitally needed in both areas to help avoid the trap of low growth and high inequality. More public spending on its own does not spring this trap – and, in the absence of serious ideas for raising productivity, will not work. A small example: “city regions” were a Labour idea ten years ago to drive economic growth from the ground up, long before George Osborne discovered the “Northern Powerhouse”, but were not developed.

The third is whether the left has an international perspective as well as a national one. In the 1930s this was about appeasement. In the 1980s it was about Europe. And today Europe is again the fulcrum. The temptation will be to chase Euroscepticism. This would be a huge error. Now is the time to set clear tests for the government’s negotiations with the European Union, to show how a progressive approach to engagement with the EU helps manage globalisation, rather than turn our backs on it. Nationalist isolationism of the left (or the right) offers no answers in an age of interdependence.

The issues today are momentous: whether global capitalism has more bust than boom; whether we can sustain Western liberal values in the face of global pressures; whether the climate crisis is past resolution; whether the people I work for – refugees and the displaced – will ever find a home; whether public services can survive the flight of capital from Western tax authorities; whether democratic norms can survive the tyranny of flash mobs.

These challenges cry out for a relevant, persuasive, open-minded left. It is tempting to believe that the need for credibility blocks radicalism. That is the Corbyn/Sanders argument. In fact, the truth is the opposite. Credibility is the foundation of radicalism. If you are not credible on your intentions, your trustworthiness, your judgement, your character, your instincts, then your radical policies will never be given the chance to breathe. But establish that foundation, and there is a majority to be made. Just look at the new Liberal government in Canada.

There is a host of contingent and tactical issues that needs to be addressed by those active on the political stage. But the structural and strategic issues listed here are a matter for us all.

Among the other contributors to the “New Times”, offering solutions to the new challenges facing progressives, are Paul Mason, Lisa Nandy MP, John Bew,
Ros Wynne-Jones, Philip Collins, Vince Cable, Tom Kibasi, Marc Stears, John Gray and David Runciman.

Lisa Nandy: Labour, halted and hollowed out.

After years of stagnation, Labour has plunged into chaos. But the dramatic events of recent months have their origins in the preceding decades, during which every part of the labour movement slowly hollowed out, leaving us stranded, with little reach into communities and workplaces. As the world has changed around us, we have stood still.

 [. . .]

Labour’s unique strength has always been the depth and breadth of our grass roots. So no wonder that, running short of inspiration as our reach has contracted, we have looked backwards for answers. Renationalisation, Sure Start, NHS spending – all matter, but we fool ourselves if we believe that simply resuscitating old, proud solutions will breathe life into the Britain of the 2020s. The aim is to build the new century, not relive the last.

The tragedy of Labour’s predicament lies in the decades-long stand-off between New and Old Labour. Throughout the 21st century the generation of the 1990s has fought the cohort of the 1980s and, in doing so, lost sight of the future. As we rehearse tired divisions about the role of public- and private-sector providers and revive the battles of the 1930s about the reform or overthrow of capitalism, both states and markets have concentrated their grip on power, thus denying people agency and control in their lives.

Across Europe, centre-left parties are paralysed by the compromise between power and principle, too often outflanked on credibility to the right and on populist principle to the left. In Britain, fuelled by the widespread loss of faith in the power of governments to change things, as well as a pervasive narrative of elites v the people, this has become a battle about Labour’s purpose. Are we a parliamentary force or a social movement? Power or principle? Reform or revolution? Yet these are false choices that the left cannot afford to accept. They preclude any prospect of meaningful change.

 

Philip Collins: It’s time for Labour to abolish its crisis.

When the Conservative Party is out of power nobody, except happy mockers on the left, talks about a crisis of the political right. There are no seminars entitled, feverishly: “What Is Right?” No recently dismissed apparatchik writes a lengthy, learned piece in a journal, purporting to distil lessons from far-flung nations. The political left does all of these things in earnest. It is a sign of the British left’s lack of confidence that, by thinking too much, it is able to redefine its defeats as crises.

This is a vice of being a doctrinal party. The Conservative Party is less biblical and, as a result, less prone to heresy-hunting. Blasphemy is an impossible betrayal in the Conservative Party because there is no book. The Labour Party, by contrast, always has a standard by which to measure its crisis. To be precise, Labour has three standards: its doctrine, its history and its sense of purpose. In all three, Labour is in a tangle. In all three, Labour is in a mess.

[. . .]

Jeremy Corbyn is leading Labour off a cliff, accompanied by his lemmings among the membership. As weak a politician as he is, he is probably strong enough to kill off his own party. When a disaster has three aspects – doctrine, history and sense of purpose – it all adds up to a fourth, which is existential. Britain needs a centre-left party to be a viable not-Conservative government. It may not need the Labour Party.

Paul Mason: We must be ready to cause a commotion.

When people talk of Labour becoming a social movement they must realise what that means. Frances Fox Piven, the veteran US sociologist, described what a social movement does, based on her study of the early civil rights actions of the 1960s. It causes “commotion among bureaucrats, excitement in the media, dismay among influential segments of the community, and strain for political leaders”.

They want to frack our countryside? Then cause commotion. They want to ration access to the NHS? Then don’t leave it to the junior doctors: fill the admin offices of the health bureaucrats with patients demanding treatment now.

We, the British left, stand right in the headlights of an oncoming train. It is here, in the UK, that rich-world globalisation took its first hit. If the Labour Party is struggling to stay whole, and if the Union of Great Britain itself looks fragile, then probably many other aspects of the given social order are weak as well.

We may have only a limited time in which to do this. We need a social movement with a few clear messages, whose aim is to invest communities of despair with messages of hope and resistance.

Introducing the “New Times” issue, the NS editor, Jason Cowley, writes:

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them?

Listen to Philip Collins, Ros Wynne-Jones, Jason Cowley and the NS political editor, George Eaton, discuss the “New Times” issue in this week’s podcast (published Thursday 22 September).

Helen Lewis: Are we ready for English nationalism?

There is a glaring space in UK politics for an English nationalist party, writes Helen Lewis – but who is going to fill it?

Devolution has had many unexpected consequences, but the rise of an English identity is one of the least explored. Because of its demographic dominance, mainstream politicians have long argued that it would be unfair to give England its own parliament. Labour is particularly resistant to the idea because it would magnify the Conservatives’ power. As it is, the principle of “English votes for English laws” will exclude the SNP and Plaid Cymru from the grand committee-stage hearings on grammar schools, because education is a devolved matter.

However, the last general election showed that there’s a problem with English voters feeling ignored. In Worcester, the Tory MP Robin Walker told me in April 2015 that arguments about the SNP holding Labour to ransom cut through on the doorstep. “There is a real concern if [voters] are saying, ‘The proceeds of the mansion tax are all going to go on nurses in Scotland. That doesn’t help us,’” he said. Many English voters felt that the SNP would be a successful lobby group at Westminster for Scotland’s interests. Where was their equivalent?

For John Denham, the former Labour MP who now leads the Centre for English Identity and Politics at the University of Winchester, the same dynamic applied this summer in the EU referendum campaign. “Scotland got ‘Scotland Stronger in Europe’,” he tells me. “England had to put up with ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’. That was an elite campaign run by people who think Britain and England are the same thing.

[. . .]

Denham says that 80 per cent of people who defined themselves as “English only” voted Leave, while 80 per cent of those who called themselves “British only” voted Remain.

Denham thinks that this presents an enormous challenge for Labour in northern seats where Ukip is in second place, given that its intellectuals and leading politicians feel so squeamish about Englishness. “If Labour continues as a cosmopolitan, liberal party that doesn’t want anything to do with the politics of identity,” he warns, “it won’t reach those voters.”

Other politicians worry that if Labour doesn’t occupy this space, another party will. “As nationalists go, the SNP is pretty good,” a senior left-wing politician told me recently. “An English nationalist party could be something altogether more nasty.”

In this light, the election of Diane James as the leader of Ukip looks like a rare stroke of luck for Labour. She is a southerner, educated at Rochester Grammar School, and an MEP for south-east England. Although she is polished and professional – albeit prone to outbursts of admiration for Vladimir Putin – she seems unlikely to appeal on an emotional level to working-class white voters in the north, where the greatest potential for an English nationalist party lies. Thanks to Ukip’s Caligulan internal politics, the deputy leader, Paul Nuttall (from Bootle), did not stand and the charismatic Steven Woolfe (from Burnage) was excluded from the race after the party’s executive committee ruled that he had submitted his nomination papers 17 minutes after the deadline. (Another potential candidate, Suzanne Evans, was suspended by the party, and pretty much everyone else in Ukip seems to hate its only MP, Douglas Carswell.)

If not Labour, or Ukip, perhaps the Conservatives? Theresa May’s rebranding of the party, complete with articles on bringing back grammar schools in the Daily Mail, shows that she is pitching for Ukip-leaners. “In terms of language and biography, she has a better understanding of that struggling, socially conservative, English nationalist voter than Cameron did,” says Robert Ford, a professor of political science at Manchester University and co-author of Revolt on the Right. He believes that any party that thinks a simple economic message can sway these voters is underestimating the “emotive” nature of identity-based politics. “It’s no use going to Sunderland and saying, ‘We’re going to nationalise the trains,’ and thinking, ‘They’ll come back to us.’”

There is another option. A new party could be born, perhaps even out of the ashes of post-referendum Ukip: Arron Banks, its mega-donor, has said that he fancies the idea. With the right leader, nationalist sentiment could spread like wildfire among the “English, not British”. And, as Nigel Farage has shown, you don’t need to get elected to Westminster to have an effect.

 

Syria Notebook: Jeremy Bowen.

Reporting from Aleppo, the BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, describes a city of deserted ruins that was once home to the most bustling souk in the Levant:

The only good news from Aleppo is that the Old City was built to last and significant parts of it can be repaired. Thick stone walls are strong. Last year, as the jihadists who call themselves Islamic State were blowing up temples in Palmyra, the ancient town in the Syrian desert, the director of antiquities at Damascus Museum told me that as long as the original stones were still there, experts could do a lot to reconstruct the lost buildings. Rebuilding the broken fabric of Aleppo will be expensive, but it won’t be impossible. It would also require peace.

The bad news is that the longer the war goes on, the more Syrians are scattered into a new diaspora and the harder it will be to restore their communities. I was lucky enough to visit Aleppo before the war, in 2010, when Syria was safe enough for me to take my mother and (then) nine-year-old daughter. The Old City’s alleyways and khans housed the greatest souk in the Levant. Aleppo was a great crossroads in the medieval world where the trade routes of Europe and Asia came together. Shakespeare put the place name into the incantations of the witches in Macbeth: “her husband’s to Aleppo gone, master o’ th’ Tiger”.

***

In modern times you could buy pretty much anything you needed, from washing machines to shiny counterfeit football shirts. Tiny shops would build piles of dried fruit, or rainbow pyramids of spices, or the dark green soap made from olive oil and bay that used to be aged like wine before it was sold. It took a year to make each bar.

Money can help rebuild. But the people who made the place what it was have gone. Half of Syria’s pre-war population has fled. When I walked through Aleppo’s burnt-out khans and broken alleys, they were echoing and empty. The war had snuffed out the old life. The only people I saw were soldiers.

 

The Diary: Dylan Jones.

The GQ editor Dylan Jones describes how the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, stole hearts at the magazine’s Men of the Year Awards, followed by a week in which the Prime Minister and Sam Cam wooed the fashion world together, and “affordable” housing got a surreal redefinition by the developers of Battersea Power Station:

About nine months ago I was asked if I wanted to spend a morning with Zac Goldsmith, as he appeared to be wakening from the slumber that had obviously taken hold of him when he decided to run for mayor of London. However, after about three minutes in his company (maybe less, actually) I realised that not even his campaign team – let alone voters in the Borough of Southwark – thought he had a hope in hell of winning.

There was only ever going to be one winner, and the enthusiasm with which Sadiq Khan has been greeted by London has been heartwarming. He won the politician award at GQ’s Men of the Year Awards a few weeks ago, and I’d never heard such a roar as he leapt up on stage to collect it. Well, I’ve heard such roars for the likes of Michael Caine, Elton John and Amy Schumer, but rarely for a politician. In fact, the last time there was such fulsome applause for a politician at the GQ awards was when we gave one to a pre-Sextator David Blunkett. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised: the last time Noel Gallagher graced us with his presence, he asked: “Is this what a Conservative party conference looks like?”

Priced out
There certainly won’t be a house waiting for them, not if they intend to live in London. The marketing bods behind the new development at Battersea Power Station came in to make a presentation at Vogue House a few weeks ago, showing us lots of slides and videos about their fabulous development.

There’s a Frank Gehry this and a Frank Gehry that, a swimming pool, a private members’ club and lots of artisanal independent retailers selling organic rhubarb and fancy beer, blah blah blah.

Their roll-call of “good things” included the ominous words “affordable housing”, but this appears to be anything but. After the presentation, I promptly stuck my hand up and asked them what they actually meant by affordable housing. The answer I got wasn’t satisfactory, so I asked again: “What does your entry-level accommodation cost?” And the very charming man with the lapel-mike coughed apologetically and almost whispered, “£350,000.” At which point I made my excuses and left.

The idea that my daughters can one day get on the property ladder in London is pure fantasy, and they certainly won’t be living in Battersea, or indeed anywhere near it.

Back in fashion
Last Thursday, Theresa May hosted her first reception at Downing Street for the British fashion industry, an event that usually takes place twice a year, and which is attended by fashion designers, industry figures, newspaper and magazine editors and the like.

Samantha Cameron was always a significant supporter of the sector (which contributes more to the country’s GDP than the car industry), as was Sarah Brown before her, and it is instructive that May has decided to follow in their footsteps. It’s also telling that Mrs Cameron was not only invited to the event at No 10 but turned up, which says a lot about both women. Theresa May is a fundamentally shy person, yet she not only made a pitchperfect speech in front of a Brexit-sensitive (and quite possibly suspicious) crowd, but chose to embrace the opportunity to espouse the growing importance of an industry that was so closely associated with the wife of her predecessor. There is such a lot of noise at the moment surrounding the PM’s apparent lack of interest in remaining on good terms with David Cameron, so one wonders what, if anything, is going on here. Taken at face value, May’s move at the reception was extremely classy.

The spying game
The following day I found myself in Cheltenham for a five-hour briefing on counterterrorism, cyber-defence, drug smuggling and child kidnapping at GCHQ.

I had expected the place to be like the Foreign Office, but it’s actually more like Google, Apple or Nike, and feels as though it could easily be a campus on America’s “Left Coast”.

There is an incredible sense of purpose at GCHQ, a feeling that they are all working for the common good, and frankly I found it infectious. While the denizens of Silicon Valley might be very adept at pushing the frontiers of consumerism, designing training shoes, telephones and algorithms, it felt far more appropriate to be spending time with men and women obsessed with making the world safer.

 

Roger Mosey on the rise of James Purnell.

As the former BBC executive Roger Mosey reports, the buzz at Broadcasting House is that the former Labour cabinet minister James Purnell – who became an executive in charge of charter renewal at the corporation in 2o13 – is now being lined up for an important editorial job:

As a Labour man, he is not popular with some Conservatives and there has been grumbling about the idea of a former politician being handed an editor’s brief.

It would be wrong to imagine that Purnell doesn’t have the skills to navigate the BBC’s impartiality guidelines, and nobody could seriously believe he wants to impose a political agenda. However, a bland recent BBC statement in response to the suggestion that his promotion is imminent – that “we . . . do not think that holding public office should bar someone from having a career afterwards” – raises questions. For a start, Purnell’s personal beliefs are public in a way that is unprecedented for a BBC executive. As an MP, he voted for the Iraq War, for greater EU integration, for university tuition fees and for an elected House of Lords.

Does he set a precedent so that, for instance, the former Conservative culture secretary John Whittingdale – who knows a lot about broadcasting – will one day be seen as a suitable editor for the BBC? Inevitably, the accusation against the corporation, which at one stage wanted the former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger to be made controller of Radio 4, is that it’s only those on the moderate left suitable for these posts.

Purnell attracts praise for his personal style – colleagues call him “clever” and “thoroughly nice and decent” – though he is also seen as “highly political”. As a former Labour councillor, a No 10 special adviser and an MP for ten years, he could hardly expect any different.

Yet when he became the BBC’s director of strategy, his approach was breezily different. In an organisation whose panjandrums get their PAs to book drinks with colleagues weeks ahead, and then cancel them at short notice when they get a better offer, Purnell would email the executive team late in the afternoon to ask if anyone fancied going to the pub after work. He is amusing company over an impromptu pint.

The appointment process itself is puzzling. Purnell has been one of many rightly challenging the attempt to stuff the BBC board with state appointees. Yet the corporation’s own recruitment efforts are hardly transparent. There was no advertisement for a director of strategy before his appointment, and there doesn’t seem to be one yet for any new editorial role. Purnell will be good at most things he does, but this doesn’t translate into being the best candidate to run the most important public-service radio operation in the world.

 

Kevin Maguire’s Commons Confidential.

This week, the New Statesman’s chief snout in Westminster, Kevin Maguire, learns that last-ditch efforts to bolster Owen Smith’s campaign for the Labour leadership have fallen on deaf ears:

Success opens wallets and looming failure is a shut purse for Owen Smith’s campaign. A snout whispers that the total raised by a begging email from Chris Bryant, asking for £100 each from the 162 Labour MPs who nominated Pontypridd’s kamikaze kid, would barely cover a parish council by-election, let alone a Labour leadership battle. “There’s no point,” grumbled a Westminster non-payer, “in throwing good money after bad.” The email was at least properly addressed. One earlier Smith camp text began, for example, “Dear Creasy” instead of Stella. It’s not as if MPs are precious or anything.

Plus

Laurie Penny: How the energy of Occupy Wall Street changed Western politics for ever.

Adrian Smith: Selective education and grammar schools can do lasting harm to lives.

Books: John Gray reads Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus, Peter Parker on the stories of the world’s most beautiful books, and Marina Benjamin reads three studies of gender fluidity.

Film: Ryan Gilbey discovers, in Ira Sachs’s Little Men, the most watchable New York teenager since John Travolta.

Television: Rachel Cooke is captivated by Robbie Coltrane as a grotesque fallen comic in Channel 4’s National Treasure.

Radio: Antonia Quirke tunes in to Italian radio in the
migrant camps of Como.

For more press information, please contact Anya Matthews: anya.matthews@newstatesman.co.uk / 020 7936 4029 / 07815 634 396.

 

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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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