Archbishop of Glasgow: Labour MP David Cairns died because he was gay

To suggest that Cairns died of anything other than pancreatitis is as bizarre as it is insulting.

Catholic bishop Philip Tartaglia hasn't even taken up his new post as Archbishop of Glasgow yet, but he's already facing calls for his resignation. It's emerged that in a recent speech (11 April) at a religious conference at Oxford University he accused society of being "very quiet" about "the relationship between the physical and mental health of gay men". He went on to suggest that the premature death of Labour MP David Cairns last year was partly due to his homosexuality.

Tartaglia said (fast forward to 1:03:29 for the comments):

If what I have heard is true about the relationship between the physical and mental health of gay men, if it is true, then society is being very quiet about it.

Recently in Scotland, there was a gay Catholic MP who died at the age of 44 or so, and nobody said anything, and why should his body just shut down at that age?

Obviously he could have had a disease that would have killed anybody.

But you seem to hear so many stories about anger at 'hurtful and ignorant' comments, this kind of thing, but society won't address it.

In fact, as was reported at the time of his death, Cairns died of pancreatitis, an illness that, like all others, afflicts homosexuals and heterosexuals alike (although perhaps Tartaglia, a la Brass Eye, distinguishes between "good aids" and "bad aids"). The suggestion from Tartaglia, a vociferous opponent of gay marriage, appears to be that "being gay can kill you". In his defence, Tartaglia would point out that he was responding to a question about the recent suicide of a gay author in the US. But to move from this to suggest that Cairns's death was due to anything other than pancreatitis is as bizarre as it is insulting.

One is reminded of Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir's notorious column on the death of Stephen Gately, in which she wrote:

Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again. 

Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this. All that has been established so far is that Stephen Gately was not murdered.

And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy.

Cairns's partner, Dermot Kehoe, who was in a relationship with the former Scotland Office minister for almost 15 years, told the Scotsman:

This is genuinely very upsetting and painful for David's family and friends.

I can't believe that someone who claims to be a man of God and is seeking to give moral leadership should speak from such a position of ignorance.

I don't care what his views on gay marriage are, but to bring in my dead partner to justify those views is wrong.

PoliticsHome's Paul Waugh reports that Ed Miliband, who is in Scotland today, is also expected to respond. Let us hope so, and that Tartaglia's grotesque comments are condemned by all parties.

Archbishop of Glasgow-elect Philip Tartaglia.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.