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.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.