In my view
It's back to new basics
By Kevin Ovenden
LAST WEEK brought back memories of the autumn of 1992. An announcement of a mass wave of job losses and, simultaneously, a desperately out of touch government stoking fire and brimstone over family values. Eight years ago it was the destruction of the mining industry and the launch of John Major's "Back to Basics" moral crusade.
Last week it was carnage in the car industry and education secretary David Blunkett's new rules on the teaching of "sex and relationship education". It seems almost a basic law of official politics-when your policies tear people's lives apart, bang on about the sanctity of marriage and family life. That, of course, was one of the many things that were supposed to change when New Labour got elected.
Blair and Co did not guarantee much in the way of increased public spending. But the shiny New Labourites did promise to replace the Tories' stuffy, hypocritical Victorian morality with a vision of a more tolerant, inclusive society. They said they would scrap the Tories' bigoted Section 28 law, which bans the "promotion of homosexuality" and describes gay couples as living in "pretended family relationships".
Section 28 is indeed going to be scrapped. However, David Blunkett wants to replace it with something that is, in many respects, worse.
His new "guidelines", which are legally enforceable, force teachers to stress the "importance of marriage" in sex education. At a stroke single parents are lumped in with lesbians and gay men (who are not allowed to marry under the law) as people who fall short of the "ideal family". But this is an "inclusive government". So later on the guidelines stress that schools should take action against bullying of pupils on the grounds of their sexuality or family background.
You would be hard pressed to find a more muddleheaded policy, even among the mountains of muddleheaded policies imposed on schools. You enshrine in law the grounds for discriminating against people because of their lifestyle. Then you tell people not to discriminate against people because of their lifestyle. New Labour has fudged scrapping Section 28 for two reasons. First, it has buckled to the bigoted leader writers of the Daily Mail, Sun and Daily Record. Second, Blunkett's whole political career shows he has not the slightest interest in equality for lesbians and gay men. He has repeatedly voted against an equal age of consent for gays and heterosexuals.
His replacement for Section 28 shows all the hallmarks of a clash between his views and those of more liberal cabinet ministers. It has not gone far enough to buy off the most extreme bigots, the Tories in the House of Lords, who would like to see homosexuality outlawed. Yet they could have written the most hypocritical aspect of the guidelines.
It talks about the importance of "stable relationships to family life". This is from a government that is allowing the drive for profit to create instability and upheaval for the vast majority of people across Britain! Stable relationships when flexible working means longer hours and scarcely time to see the kids? Those pressures are tearing families apart, whether they are headed by a married couple or not.