Fascinators and neo-Puritanism: why I’m conflicted about marriage equality

Is it right to accept something you want from someone who you know gives it with the most cynical of motives, asks Alex Andreou.

I have kept My Big Fat Greek Gob shut on the issue of same sex marriage. I have done so, in the knowledge that many people up and down the country desire it, some of them dear friends, and I had nothing helpful to add. I had nothing to add because my objections had only been general and my own Big Fat Greek Wedding a sadly diminishing future prospect. But I can do so no longer in good conscience.

My general objections, feel free to ignore. They extend to little more than a non-specific sense of dread that at the heart of this policy is a callous attempt to create economic value where it didn’t exist; to target the disposable income of gay couples and boost growth with a surge in the sales of clothes, gravy boats, novelty fascinators and other assorted meaningless paraphernalia.

I also fear that it will create an added pressure to conform. I recall fighting the early battles in Greece in the late eighties, when we occupied Exarheia Square, hand-in-hand with transsexual prostitutes and militant dykes; the first Pride march; being chased by police and beaten with clubs. What we were fighting for was an acceptance of all different ways of expressing love and sexuality; it was a desire for more, not less, sexual liberation. White picket fences and registration lists could not have been further from our minds.

What we have instead is an attempt to absorb that sexual freedom into conformism. Instead of dragging the world into liberation, we have somehow managed to drag the LGBT community into neo-Puritanism.

Having said all this, the issue of same sex marriage is at its heart an issue of civil rights and fundamental equalities.  And so, necessarily, these general concerns must pale into insignificance and I offer my support to all those fighting for it.

My specific objection on the other hand is much more pressing and I ask you to consider it with care. Is it right to accept something you want from someone that you know gives it with the most cynical of motives?

Those who oppose it within the party leading the coalition government speak of people like me with scorn. Why is the government “so hell-bent on upsetting so many thousands of our citizens in normal marriages?" asks Bob Stewart MP. The Telegraph wails against “gay wedding” hypocrites who are ignoring the will of decent people.

And what of those who support it? I find David Cameron’s formulation of the reasoning behind the policy – echoed almost verbatim by Maria Miller – very interesting: "I'm in favour of gay marriage, because I'm a massive supporter of marriage”. To me this is tantamount to saying “I support Rosa Parks’s fight against racial segregation, because I am a huge fan of buses.”

In short, my concern is that both support and opposition for marriage equality coming from the Tory benches is steeped in homophobia – expressed alternately in malevolent or benevolent terms.

“So what?” you might say. Issues of fundamental freedom are issues of principles. I have a niggling doubt that doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is not enough. It will serve to legitimise the pseudo-liberal credentials of a government that is simultaneously punishing the sick, the homeless, the unemployed, the poor, women, immigrants and every other minority on which they can lay their austere hands.

If we accept their condescension unquestioningly, we become complicit in a strategy designed to win votes and perpetuate a deeply right-wing party, many members of which twenty years ago were ordering the police to raid gay bars.

We risk becoming the latest in a sequence of elaborately constructed lies; hug a hoodie, hug a husky, hug a homo. Hug anyone who will let you and get re-elected.

And that I do have a problem with.

A very civil partnership. Photograph: Getty Images

Greek-born, Alex Andreou has a background in law and economics. He runs the Sturdy Beggars Theatre Company and blogs here You can find him on twitter @sturdyalex

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Young voters lost the referendum but they still deserve a future

It's time to stop sneering at "crap towns" and turn them into places young people want to stay. 

What a horror show. A land-slide 75 per cent of young people voted in favour of Europe. The greater numbers of the over 65s met that force with 61 per cent against. Possibly the greatest divide in our country turned out to be not gender, not race, not even party politics, but age. The old and the young faced off about how to run our country, and the young lost. 
 
What have we done to our future? Well, whatever happens now, leadership is required. We can’t afford to have the terms of the debate dictated by Brexiters who looked as shocked at the mess they have made as Stronger-Inners are distraught. We can’t afford to wallow either. Young people across this country today are feeling worried and let down – failed by all of us - because when their future was on the line, we were unable to secure it. We – those who believe we achieve more by our common endeavour - all feel that deep worry, and all share in that shame.

How we should all rue the choice not to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote. And quickly re-ignite the campaign for votes at 16.

But young people don’t need our worry or our pity or our shame. They need a better chance and we need to give them one. I believe passionately that the future for this country was as a leader in Europe, but that does not mean we give up on our future now. For Labour, the challenge now is to work out how we can build a better future for all our people and communities. The sky has not fallen. The UK is still a rich country.

Beat recession with better housing

Let’s start with housing and development. It is no longer good enough to simply set targets with no possibility of meeting them. The housing crunch has killed off the chance of owning a home for many young people, and left thousands at the mercy of cripplingly expensive rent.  The housing market is broken and we need to build much faster in high growth areas like London and Manchester at the same time investing in restoring low quality housing in our northern towns, in Scotland, Wales and in Northern Ireland. 

In policy terms, we should be asking the Local Government Association, the Infrastructure Commission, and the construction industry itself, to collaborate on a counter-Brexit house building plan with a focus on areas where there is a clear market failure. We could get a champion of industry and construction such as my old Network Rail boss, Sir John Armitt, to be in charge, and lead a national mission to build and rebuild homes.

In the last parliament, Osborne first tried the "tighten our belts" approach to speeding up growth. He failed, and then tried plan B: investment for growth. Now we have the possibility of another recession on the cards and may well need to use investment to stop our economy grinding to a halt. Now - or possibly sooner - would be an excellent time for a national building project like this housing plan.

Stop sneering at "crap towns"

On economic development, it is clear that Labour needs a strategy for giving our northern towns an economic future and linking them up with the modern economy. When cities grow, and towns fall behind, those towns are a breeding ground for frustration. This is not just about cuts, it is about the uneven distribution of the benefits of globalisation. The Brexit vote was centred around areas that justifiably feel they have lost from the last decades. We need to make sure they win from the years ahead.

For far too long, there has been a sneering "crap towns" attitude. These places can offer good housing, community, and a decent life. But the problem there is work. In many of our towns, there is too little to do that can offer a young person a career tomorrow as well as a shift today.

Because, as it happens, the biggest driver of low pay tends to be skill level, not immigration. 

Teach the skills we need

Of course we should stop exploitation of migrant workers who undercut others. Let's tell firms that use exploitative agencies they can't work for the Government. But you can’t raise wages without changing the structure of the labour market. It’s not just about replacing one set of workers with another - you have to raise the level of wages that those workers can command. Because the truth about work in too many places is that most of the jobs available are either those with the low status of care work (though it may be highly-skilled work), or industries with a high volume of low-skilled work such as retail and hospitality. But from there, there’s nothing to move on to. The brain drain to cities has consequences.

Leaving Europe will shut off economic opportunity across the country to many young people.  Frankly, we owe it to them to work like demons to offer them something better closer to home.

We need a social partnership for skills and work. The Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress working together to deliver an urgent plan for training and career progression in the towns with stagnant labour markets and low skills. We need to find a way to stop the brain drain that sucks the talent out of the places that need it the most, using the experience of programmes like Teach First. When the best people feel they have no reason to return to where they grow up, it is both a sign of a deep problem and also demoralising evidence of decline for those left behind.

And our new metro-mayors must pay as much attention to the towns in their region as well as the city centre. No one left out, no one’s local shops lying empty whilst a city down the road flourishes. And no schools failing, either.

It is undeniable that people voted for change in the referendum. The problem is that the change they voted for will do little to solve the problems they face. Labour’s role is not just to point this out, but to offer a vision of real meaningful change. 

Not easy, perhaps. But one thing is for certain, mouthing platitudes about "hearing concerns"and offering only symbolic gestures has been tested to destruction. People deserve better and we need to offer it to them.

Alison McGovern is the Labour MP for Wirral South

Alison McGovern is Labour MP for Wirral South.