This row harks back to the poisonous days of Section 28. Photo: Sarah Rice/Getty
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On gay rights, the Conservatives are still, unsurprisingly, conservative

A much-clarified tweet from the Department for Education serves to remind us that despite the introduction of same-sex marriage, the Conservative Party has yet to catch up on some issues.

Being straightforward about your position on gay rights is quite easy. Here’s how:

“I’m for them.”

Or, if you happen to be a shitty person:

“I’m against them.”

Or, if you happen to be part of the Department for Education, something along the lines of:

I’m for them. They should be taught in schools. It’s nonsense that they should be taught in schools. No, it’s nonsense that schools should be forced to teach them. Schools aren’t allowed to be homophobic. Black is white. Curtains are centipedes. La plume de ma tante.”

The DfE had many heads a-scratching on Sunday with the following tweet (now deleted):

This came shortly after Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan (Gove Version 2.0), told the Sunday Times that faith schools “must teach gay rights”. This was confusing enough, as Morgan had only recently converted to Not Being a Homophobe. The minister, who voted against equal marriage, announced on BBC Radio 4 last week that she’s changed her mind about it (for which she has all my support, as I can only imagine how hard it is to come out, on national radio, as someone who doesn’t mind gays).

Later, they issued the following series of clarifications:

The DfE’s original tweet seemed to contradict what Morgan had said, and appropriate internet outrage proceeded. Today, the DfE further “clarified” their stance. Apparently, what they meant was that the teaching of gay rights in schools shouldn’t be compulsory. Those damn semantics, eh Nicky? But, what should be compulsory is the teaching of something called “British Values”.

Politicians are hardly new to muddying up perfectly nice water, but the DfE have taken obfuscation to a whole new, slightly surreal, level. In the least direct way possible, gay rights have been declared “not a British Value”. And yet, they’ve said this: “Ofsted are rightly ensuring that schools do not indoctrinate pupils about gay people – or any other people – being inferior.” So, while gay rights have no place on the national curriculum, according to the Tories, neither does homophobia.

What we seem to be left with is a scholastic version of America’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule on homosexuality, which existed in the military until it was repealed in 2011 for being fucking gross. When Nicky Morgan took over as Education Secretary earlier this year, I remember joking that she was probably going to bring back the Thatcher Government’s Section 28. This, for those lucky enough not to remember it, was a noisome little piece of legislation that banned the “promotion” (mentioning) of homosexuality in schools.

But if gay rights aren’t enshrined in British Values (whatever the hell they are), then a much fuzzier, but just as damaging, version of Section 28 is still in effect.

When LGBT people are still discriminated against on a regular basis, not actively teaching that they’re equal is inherently homophobic. What the DoE wants is silence. When David Cameron brought in same-sex marriage last year, he tried to invent a gay-friendly Tory for the BuzzFeed generation. “Nonsense”-gate serves as a reminder that, when it comes to LGBT issues, the Conservatives are still, unsurprisingly, conservative.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.