Why Boris Johnson should step in to save London’s WorldPride parade

The Mayor could make an important gesture to the LGBT community in London by helping with last-minute funding problems.

WorldPride, an event that was meant to showcase London as a leading city for LGBT rights and life, is fast resembling a paltry village fete. Now, it’s up to all those who honour Pride’s core values to call on Boris Johnson to intervene, and to step up and be counted themselves on Saturday, whatever the state of the parade.

If you don’t already know (and it’s been so little reported in the mainstream press you probably don’t), last Thursday WorldPride organisers Pride London revealed that a shortfall in funding, estimated to be around £66,000 by the LGBT VSO coalition Consortium, would mean drastic last-minute changes for this Saturday’s WorldPride parade day. No special events in Soho, a reduced rally in Trafalgar Square, no outdoor drinking and late licensing in Soho and most galling of all, no floats – floats which volunteers and LGBT charities have invested precious hours and pounds in constructing (with a minimum cost of £2,500 just to secure one), and are now out of pocket for having done so. Being unable to pay for the requisite policing means the procession start time has been moved forward by two hours, scuppering thousands of pre-arranged travel plans, and the official Pride magazine, which details the day’s schedule, has been out of date since it dropped off the press. The one million or so expected visitors are currently en route to a glorified march about town, something akin to what Pride London’s bizarre sleight of spin calls "the roots of the original Pride London rallies". But 40 years later, even Peter Tatchell, the founder of that first march, considers the comparison a travesty, not a compliment: “We’re not only letting down LGBT people in Britain, we’re also betraying the trust and confidence of LGBT people world-wide. This is an absolute disaster,” he said.

WorldPride in London should have been a spectacular party which reminded the international community of the ever-pressing need to fight for the rights of LGBT people, wherever they may be. Now, both the party and the political message have been egregiously undermined by the committee’s incompetence and nonsensical hesitancy in admitting it needed funding help. If the event is allowed to fall apart, London’s claim to being a city of tolerance and social liberalism will surely be tarnished.

Meanwhile, the LGBT community and those involved with the event are conflicted about the best way forward. In an open letter to Boris Johnson, a Facebook group called Shame London have asked the Mayor "to provide equivalent funding to the Notting Hill Carnival", which would enable the parade proper to be reinstated. Since the GLA has in fact already donated £100,000 to the event, others disagree that it is Johnson’s duty to step up to the plate. Some have called out for a celebrity donor, or Soho businesses that profit year round from the LGBT community, to put up the cash; others claim to be prepared to fundraise themselves. Pride London is the only official group with the means to distribute gathered funds, but vitriol for them is now so intense that many potential supporters would not pass a penny the committee’s way whatever it could now pull off. Somebody, then, must surely act as both a mediator and a guarantor.

Late last night, Pride London confirmed that it had secured the support of two sponsors, Smirnoff and QSoft in meeting some of the deficit, theoretically enabling the restoration of the floats to the parade and the closure of selected Soho roads, should the GLA agree. A final all-agencies meeting is planned for later today where the restoration of WorldPride now depends on the cooperation of Westminster Council and the Met, or a top-down order from the only man who can demand it: the Mayor himself.

Johnson’s reticence to intervene so far is not exactly reassuring. Would Johnson not have offered help immediately if the Jubilee celebrations had been financially mismanaged? Or the Olympics? Even the most cynical of us can see that the furore presents Johnson with the perfect political opportunity to up the Tories’ liberal cuddle-credentials. So what point has the Mayor made by so far failing to step in and save the day? That you can put a price on protecting and promoting human rights, and it stands at roughly £66K?

In the meantime, besides occupying City Hall, or picketing Boris’ home, what can any of the appalled rest of us do? Well, join the Shame London Facebook campaign and email the Mayor. Or use a similar letter drafted by Consortium to put pressure on the GLA to reinstate the original plans. And – most importantly - plan to attend WorldPride on Saturday, of course, however the event turns out. Even if we can’t party as hard as we were hoping, we can still do what thousands of other individuals still waiting for LGBT acceptance around the world cannot; march with our friends and loved ones and say to the world, it’s ok to be gay. Whatever Pride London or the authorities owed us in honesty or actions, we owe it to all those denied the right to LGBT identity to show that solidarity.
 

Boris Johnson at the Gay Pride march in London in 2008. Photograph: Getty Images

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories