In 1988, the Conservative government passed the Local Government Act. The most controversial part of the Act was Section 28, Subsection 1 stated:

A local authority should not (a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality or (b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.

Subsection 2 was slightly more conciliatory in tone, saving that “Nothing in Subsection 1 shall be taken to prohibit the doing of anything for the purpose of treating or preventing the spread of disease.”

Section 28 was the culmination of a long campaign carried out by pro-family campaigners who had become increasingly concerned about the promotion of homosexuality in schools; even very young children were being exposed to didactic tracts like the infamous Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin. It was one of the best things the Conservatives did in an 18-year incumbency remembered now more for its missed opportunities than for its achievements. Predictably, there was outrage from the usual suspects, but even some moderate homosexuals supported Section 28; they at least could tell the difference between “not promoting” and savagely repressing homosexuality. But a pledge to repeal Section 28 appeared in Labour’s 1997 general election manifesto; this clause alone shows how far Labour’s governing elite has moved from the party’s traditional supporters. Few asked how this fit in with Labour’s oft-stated desire to bolster family life and Tom Blair’s highly public visits to churches.

The issue ran through the whole election campaign. Labour fielded several openly homosexual candidates who were elected; some of them are presently ministers. Since the election, there have been more revelations of zoophyte affiliations in Labour ranks, most famously Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson and Ron Davies, then Welsh Secretary, who had a bizarre escapade while cruising for black boys on Clapham Common, during which he was robbed by a man whom he had followed into a council estate.

These individuals are amongst those agitating for the repeal of Section 28, saying that it leads to “homophobic” bullying in schools, although the government admits that it has only “anecdotal evidence” that this is a problem. (An interesting aside on the homosexual debate is how the customary roles of right and left are reversed, with leftists believing all of a sudden that homosexuals are born rather than made, while rightists believe that homosexuals are made rather than born.)

There are still enough traditionalist Labour or cross-bench peers—like Lord Longford, who thinks of “homosexualism” as “sinful, sinful, sinful”—for Millbank to be approaching the issue warily. There are also some heavyweight campaigners on the right side, such as Chris Woodhead, chief inspector of schools, and the redoubtable Tory Baroness Young, who arranged for a display in the House of Lords showing the kind of agitprop likely to be forced on children as young as six if Section 28 is repealed. Senior churchmen (like Scotland’s Roman Catholic leader, Cardinal Winning), rather surprisingly, came out in support of Section 28, as did the chief rabbi. Even more surprisingly, a millionaire Scottish businessman has put up money and promised to hold “poll tax-style” street demonstrations. The first result of these efforts was seen on February 7, when a packed House of Lords, which voted on the legislation before the Commons, threw the bill out by a substantial majority, 210 to 165. Even government vaporings about how Section 28 would be replaced with sex education which stressed the importance of marriage and family life did not convince many Labour peers.

This result is, however, only a reprieve, as the government has promised that “Section 28 will go,” and Labour’s enormous Commons majority will ensure its passage in the lower House whenever it is introduced there. Like all good “liberals,” Tom’ Blair will try again and again until he gets the “right” result. But if the peers stand firm when the legislation is introduced in the Lords next time, then the government may have to drop the clause or risk losing a whole legislative package. And then it may be too late to try again before the next election.

Even if Section 28 does get repealed. Labour should be wary of electoral repercussions. Interviewed recently in the Sunday Telegraph, a typical Labour voter in Sedgefield, Blair’s constituency, has finally noticed that “If you’re white, working-class and heterosexual they don’t care about you.”