Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Guest Post: U.K. Conservatives Reaching Out to Gays?

By: Craig Rigby

(Hello everyone. Bryan here. today we have something special for you. A guest post from a long time...and very thoughtfull commentor to this blog Craig Rigby(orangegoblin82). This blog was never intended to be my voice alone so I am very excited to have new blood on GFV and hope this will continue to be a weekly installment. Craig will bring  will bring a U.K. perspective and his own unique voice. Please also check out his Youtube channel to watch our U.K. counterparts, Craig and his partner Jake. But without further ado todays post it brought to you....)

Hello world. I had a few ideas of what to write today, for my inaugural blog, but have settled on a UK topic. I decided it would make me seem more exotic, not something I can often pull off.

As you may or may not be aware just six weeks ago there was a general election in the UK. For the first time in thirteen years and for only the second time in my life, the government changed. We now have a Conservative Prime Minister.

Whatever else can be said about the outgoing Labour government they were good for gay people. They introduced equal employment law, anti discrimination law, strong civil partnership laws, legalised gay adoption, equalised the age of consent and a whole list of other things. I was very thankful for all of this so I rewarded them with my vote. I live in a safe seat anyway.

However, the new government is a strange new hybrid we don't often see here. It is a coalition between the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrat party. Traditionally the conservative party has been bad for gay people and the Liberal Democrats have been good... but out of power. I want to examine what this period of regime change could mean for we gays of these little old islands.

In the election build up, the Conservative party made great overtures to the gay community. In previous elections they had lost badly and the new leadership believed that this was because they were still associated with the socially intolerant positions of the past. Indeed their own party chair had labelled them “the nasty party” in 2002 and the label had stuck.

David Cameron (the new party leader) took a pro gay approach. He apologised for section 28, a horrible piece of 1980’s Tory legislation that condemned homosexual relationships as “pretended family relationships”, and various Conservative leading lights made pro-gay statements.

David Cameron, Prime Minister:
“From my first speech as Party leader, I have made it clear that the Conservative Party supports the gay community and wholeheartedly supports gay equality.”

“I believe heart and soul in equality: the whole idea of prejudice towards people on the basis of their sexuality is quite wrong.”
Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education:

“Homophobia is a funny word. Defined as prejudice against gay men and women, it is, strictly speaking, a misuse of language. The prefix “homo” comes from the Greek meaning similar, so homogeneity means sameness, homonyms are words with identical forms and homosexuality means physical attraction to those of the same sex. Logically, therefore, homophobia should mean “fear of the same”. And, in a curious way, it does.”

That all sounds lovely, especially when you consider that these are conservative politicians, but those were prepared speeches. When left to talk freely cracks begin to show in the polished position.

While attempting to gather gay votes in an interview with “Gay Times” he repeatedly fluffed his answers, panicked, and asked for some time to gather his thoughts. Not the signs of someone who finds thinking about gay equality effortless. Take a look:

In addition to this terrible performance, Christopher Grayling, the Conservative home affairs spokesman, was caught on microphone saying he thinks bed and breakfast owners should be able to refuse rooms to gay couples. If you replace the word gay here with any minority, try black, and you will see why this kicked up an unwanted media storm. In fairness to David Cameron he was reportedly so angry at these comments that he stopped taking Graylings calls. When the election was won he was exiled to a minor job in the Department of Work and Pensions. So there is a little justice after all.

Gaffes aside, the Conservatives main image problem remains their choice of allies in the European Parliament. They joined a right wing block that makes the mad right of the US Republican party look liberal. It is lead by one Michał Kamiński, a Pole. Kamiński once used the word "pedał" (a derogatory Polish word, usually translated into English as "fag" or "queer") in a TV interview. When asked by the reporter if such a term was offensive, his reply translated as: "That's how people speak, what should I say? They are fags." His PiS party has been responsible for the banning of pride marches in Poland and their inclusion in the block cause the Conservative leader in the European parliament to resign calling them “extremist”. Not exactly the ideal political allies of the new gay friendly Torys.

Of course the new government isn’t just comprised of the conservatives. They have Liberal Democrats in the mix, even if the Conservatives are the bigger of the two partners. The Lib Dems have historically been pretty good on gay issues, they supported all the pro-gay legislation of the last government. They have had their issues with closeted married MPs getting up to unspeakable things with rent boys but no one is perfect.

Indeed there have been all sorts of jokes about Cameron and Clegg (the Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister) being a married couple with their new political love in, some of the jokes made by Cameron himself. I suppose it can only be a good sign that Cameron is imagining himself married to a man.

Perhaps, in an odd way, the most hopeful remark to come out of the conservative party came from the newly anointed Home Secretary, Theresa May. When asked about her apparently less than gay-friendly voting record on the BBC's “Question Time” she replied: “I've changed my mind”.

On Radio Four even the Bishop of Southwark remarked:

“I don't think that she's alone in that. It's remarkable to observe how, in spite of traditional religious teaching, public opinion in Britain over a period of a decade or so, in a remarkable shift of thinking has mostly changed its mind on the worth and place of gay people in society. The reason is simple: it's difficult to hold dogmatic views about what is good and desirable behaviour, when some of the often obviously good, loving and responsible people you actually encounter are behaving in an alternative way.”

If a Church of England bishop can change his mind on homosexuality then perhaps...genuinely, so can the Conservative party. Maybe it isn't all just a cynical grab for votes after all....


  1. I find public discourse in the U.K. amusing in its politeness. In America, an incendiary comment is "homosexuals are like drug users and should be rounded up and imprisoned" the u.k. its merely "dont let the gays stay at bed and breakfasts"...and he lost his job for that. it amazed me that such a mild comment met such immediate and harsh reprisal. That kind of comment could be heard from a "moderate" politician here. thats one point to the u.k. I guess.

    The fact that conservatives are reaching out to the gay community AT ALL is something I dont fully understand. Is it that gays are reaching an unprecedented level of inclusion in society...or are they really that in need of votes?

    Home Secretary Theresa May: "I am altering the deal...pray I don't alter it any further..."

  2. Well there are the more crazy right wingers who say things similar to "round them up". But they are mostly in little political parties who don't get enough votes to win anything.

    I am sure there are back bench Tory MP's who would like to round us up, but they mostly toe the party line and never get put in charge of anything.

  3. Hi Craig, your fellow Brit here weighing in on this discussion with something I'm guessing you won't have heard of – something which may change your mind as to whether or not the Tories have truly changed.

    The weekend before the election the Observer (the Sunday sister-paper to the Guardian) published an article on Philippa Stroud, the Tory candidate for the Sutton and Cheam constituency, regarding her involvement in the ex-gay movement. Philippa and her husband David founded the King's Arms church, which ran a project that attempted to turn gay and trans people straight (amongst other things). I have first-hand experience of both the church and project: I attended the church regularly for several years, and was a resident of the project for nine months while they tried to "straighten me out".

    What surprised me most about the whole thing was how willing Stroud was to lie and bully to get her own way: she lied at least twice that I am aware of, and used the Tory legal machine to bully media outlets into squashing the story. Philippa Stroud had been shortlisted for a cabinet position, however ultimately she failed to win her constituency seat so could not be appointed to the cabinet. However David Cameron was determined to have her in his government – Stroud was appointed as a top government advisor within days. Had Cameron genuinely changed he would have avoided Stroud; instead he has appointed her to one of the highest offices available short of a seat in the Lords.

    It's worth noting that had Britain's gays voted for the Tories as favourably as they were expected to as recently as last summer, when the Tories enjoyed unprecedented support amongst our community, Cameron would now be sitting on a very comfortable Commons majority and would have no need for the ConDem pact he was forced into.

  4. Hello Tavdy,

    I had indeed heard of Phillippa Stroud.

    My favourite part of election night was watching her go a little bit crazy and rant at the press after she failed to win her seat.

    You are right about the gay support, when all the cracks started to show at the end of the campaign the support amongst the gay community dropped.

    But it wasn't just the gays they were going after with their pro gay messages. It was the large section of the British public who saw Tory intolerance of gays as totemic of what was wrong with them.

    And in the end they could not convince enough people.

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  6. That was very interesting indeed! I'm curious, from what I had read before aren't some of the new government's allies in the EU the same as the former government's? They had something to do with limiting EU influence on the state or something I think (I forget the BBC articles I read it in, and of-course the details are a little hazy now)

    I particularly like the Church of England comment now if they would find it appropriate to re-promote the Episcopal Church (the US branch of the Church) back up into full communion, after they took it out, because of the adoption of a policy to allow Bishops to decide (for dioceses) to officially sanction gay marriage ceremonies. As the ending of the moratorium or elections of gay bishops, with the election of the second gay bishop and first lesbian Mary Glasspool.(that and it's continued ordination of women priests and clergy)

  7. The whole idea of conservatives embracing gay votes makes sense. Let's say that possibly 10% of the population is gay..perhaps more? Then, factor in all of the straight friends and family of these people. That is A LOT of votes!! Why on Earth would you not invite these people into your tent?? Bringing in the gays would bring more votes and more dollars (oops..sorry Craig..I mean pounds.:) )
    I wonder when our silly backward Republican party here in the States will figure this out??? When will they realize that there are a lot more gays/friends/family than right-wing fringe nuts???
    BTW..GREAT JOB Craig!! Thanks for enlightening us from across the pond!

  8. The official UK government estimate is 6%, Jim - which makes since with the US exit polls at the 2008 election. Those exit polls gave a figure of 4% and the US is a much more homophobic country than the UK, so US gays have more reason to hide their sexuality &/or to to be in self-denial.

    You're right in that the whole "straight friends and family" thing is a key factor. Support for marriage equality here is over 60%, in line with the rest of western Europe, and support for gay rights generally is higher again. It is now virtually impossible for an overtly homophobic political party to win a significant number of Commons seats in a UK election.

    Of course, the Republicans wouldn't have a chance here irrespective of their stance on gay rights, since they'd be considered far-right, paralleling UKIP or the English Democrats (neither of which have any Commons MPs). Of the parties which currently hold Commons seats, two are right-wing (Tories, DUP) and the rest are left-wing (Labour, Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein, SDLP, Green). It's the latter group which currently holds the largest share of seats, although by only a slim margin, so while there was a major shift to the right at the last election, the left is still numerically-dominant.

  9. @Tavdy I personally am reluctant to believe exit polls. Nobody ever asked me if I was gay at a polling station. I am sure many people would find that question as "none of your business" and not answer truthfully. Americans are like that..that is just one of those questions that you just don't ask people..even people who are completely "out"
    My partner and I went to Cleveland Pride this past weekend. There were THOUSANDS of gay people there along with representatives from big banks, airlines, you name it.(And we live in Ohio!) In contrast, I remember going there 18 years ago when I first came out and it was small..maybe a few hundred.
    Our Republican party needs to change with the times or else they will end up in the dustpan of political parties.

  10. WOW Great start Craig....I look forward to reading more oy your blogs. I know Bryan is very happy that you have decided to contribute to the gay family values blog...It would be cool to exspand this blog to have a perspective from each part of the world. I cant waite till the Republican party has to change its stance on gay rights its coming just not fast enoufe for me....


  11. @Jim
    It keeps looking like it will take longer and longer for the GOP to advance anywhere near a progressive let alone equality agenda on rights, if you look at just a couple of the recently blog publicised state level platforms, in Montana they want the Sodomy laws back as part of their platform, same as Texas who also wants to make gay marriage a felony even though it is already baned by their states DOMA. The party seems to be slipping further and further into the dark corners of extremism, and to be less and less willing to look to the examples of the world around it and see the light in embracing equality. Something that should be its natural partner being a party of small government and getting it out of peoples lives, but they seem to be overly obsessed with now getting it back into lives even in cases where the supreme court says they can't!!

  12. We have a lot to look forward to it seems! Thank god for the Liberal!