Thursday 24 May 2018

Rid of it

It's an emotionally resonant date to mark but I probably can't improve on my summary of the Section 28 affair from two years ago here. But as we mark 30 years since Section 28 came in, worth remembering that it is also 15 and 18 years since it was got rid of, depending where you live. Yet its shadow lingered on - and as the current government drags its heels on reform of sex and relationship education for England that shadow gets to linger a little longer. And we have this bold parallel taking place around us as voices just like those that warned of the danger of allowing children to know that bi and gay people existed then, now warning of the horrors that will be unleashed if children get to know about gender diversity. I might just live long enough to see what the next stupid scare story is in thirty more years.

It was heartwarming to see the news from Wales yesterday where the Lib Dem / Labour coalition is striking out in the opposite direction from Section 28, giving young people age-appropriate information to give them information and skills around gender, sexuality, consent and bodily autonomy. I grew up in Wales at the height of clause mania and it is nigh impossible to imagine such things. Yet here we are: hurrah.

For Scotland, the clause went three years before the rest of the UK, reflecting how the Lib Dem / Labour coalition government there had different priorities from the Labour majority government at Westminster. One of the frustrations of the 2010-2015 Lib Dem / Tory coalition was that it was almost always critiqued against what had been before, rather than what would have happened had the Brown government won another term. That's a misleading prism to look at things through - a logic that would wind up with asking why the 1974 Labour government did so little to roll out broadband internet access to rural areas - but with the SNP running Scotland and Labour running Wales there was no easy and direct comparison. But with tuition fees, the evil clause and a smattering of other things, from 1999 we got a clear reflection of exactly what difference the Liberals were making compared to having a single party administration.

For the rest of us it took another three years, and I'd forgotten that when it was at last brought to an end by an amendment tabled by Ed Davey - one of those Liberal MPs who lost their seat in the big lurch right of 2015 but who is now back in parliament. There's a neat symmetry that both sides of the border it was kicked out by Liberals, as the only party to have opposed it in those early days of 87/88.