Former prime minister Tony Blair was warned overturning Section 28 might hurt his election chances by David Blunkett, previously classified records have revealed.
Blair was warned by his then education secretary about repealing the legislation, which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools, during the run-up to the 2001 general election.
As reported by The Guardian, in a letter dated December 1999, Blunkett wrote: “We appear to be in real danger of getting on the wrong side of the argument in relation to the family.
“Whatever we do, we must be clear that there can be no proselytising of any form of sexuality in schools or youth services.”
Blunkett stated publicly that he was in favour of dropping the ban.
Tony Blair and David Blunkett at the Labour Party Conference 2000. (Jeff Overs/BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images)
Approximately three months later in 2000, he wrote another letter to Blair, outlining his “deep concern”.
“It seems to me that anything that ‘defers’ the issue to a future date will end up with the general election [of 2001] featuring the promotion of homosexuality alongside anti-European fervour and the re-emergence of English nationalism! Not a very happy cocktail,” Blunkett wrote.
“It seems to me that there are a vast swathe of very reasonable people (certainly outside the London chattering classes) who are deeply concerned as to why it is that we are not prepared to ‘rule out the promotion of homosexuality’ in our schools.
“The fact that Section 28 doesn’t do this is, to the uninitiated, a sideshow. So long as they believe that it does, then the issue is a running sore.”
Blunkett’s suggestion was to replace the legislation with a “form of words” that would prevent teachers from “promoting” any kind of sexuality or sexual orientation.
The Queen’s speech later in the year, which did not feature a commitment to repeal Section 28 after proposals were rejected by the House of Lords, seems to indicate that Labour MPs were indeed concerned about the repeal’s effect on the election.
Of course, Labour would eventually win the 2001 general election, but it would take a further two years for Section 28 to be overturned in England and Wales – Scotland repealed the legislation in 2000. During Blair’s 2001 tenure, Blunkett was promoted to home secretary.