Thatcher the gay icon

'There are many gay Tory men who would like to sleep with David Cameron but it is Lady Thatcher whose portrait hangs over their bed!'

Central London was awash with celebration the other Sunday afternoon. On Horse Guards Parade Falklands veterans marked the Silver Jubilee of Mrs Thatcher's glorious victory and in the Ritz Hotel the Conservative Leader of Westminster City Council sealed his civil partnership with his fellow Councillor and Chief Whip.

In a vision in fuchsia pink Mrs Thatcher was the only dignitary to receive an ovation as she arrived on the reviewing dais and as she left the Victoria Memorial later in the afternoon (on the arm of Tony Blair) she was mobbed by ex-soldiers and the crowd in a slightly sedater version of Tom Cruise working a Leicester Square Premier.

At the Ritz over the jam and scones, Tory Grandees, ex-lord mayors, young, thrusting Westminster City Councillors and the odd Rabbi joined Sir Simon Milton and his partner Councillor Robert Davis' family and friends to wish them well and to prove how the Conservative Party has embraced the Gay equality agenda. In Sir Simon's speech he revealed that they had been a couple for 19 years having met at the height of the Thatcher Government.

In my experience many of the gay Politicians in the Tory party (a not inconsiderable number) joined the Conservative party and became active during the Thatcher years. Whilst her government acquired an unfortunate reputation for not being gay friendly, the notorious and unnecessary Section 28 (under which no one was ever prosecuted) did serious damage to the equality agenda.

However, whilst the underlying ethos of Thatcherism (based on individual liberty) might well be pro-gay it was Mrs T's personality which attracted so many homosexual men to the party. In a profession dominated by men with dandruff and hair coming out of their noses or women who appear to have been dragged through a hedge backwards (a la Shirley Williams), the pure elegance, feminine perfection, perfect dress sense, and sheer determination to change society drew many gay men to the Iron Lady.

Whilst her government might have had an anti-gay aura there was simply nothing in her personal attitude to demonstrate any prejudice, she appointed gay ministers including the tragic Earl of Avon (son of ex-Prime Minister Anthony Eden) who was one of the earliest victims of Aids.

On the subject of Aids it was her government with Norman Fowler as Health Secretary which faced the issue head on and refused to take a "moral" tone on public information and prevention work.

Since Lady Thatcher was stabbed in the back by a cabal of straight men in 1990 she has gone through her "Norma Desmond" phase ("it was Politics that got small" and has emerged as a worthy successor to the late Queen Mother as the Nation's favourite relic of a bygone era. In that pantheon of gay icons, abused by straight men, that includes Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, Margaret Thatcher has it all, beauty and brains.

There are many gay Tory men who would like to sleep with David Cameron but it is Lady Thatcher whose portrait hangs over their bed!

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder