John Sentamu and the acceptable face of bigotry

To deny that gay people do not have equal rights is to be on the side of evil, no matter how twinkly

John Sentamu is nice. That’s his schtick. He’s one of those religious men that it’s okay for atheists to look at and say: “Oh, isn’t he cuddly with his archaic belief in an invisible man who tells us what to do.”

Read his article on marriage rights though and you’ll see the cuddly facade masks just another reactionary. It is clear from the very first sentence:

I will be the first to accept that homosexual people have suffered discrimination and sometimes worse through the decades and that the churches have, at times, been complicit in this.

Oh bully for you John Sentamu. Thanks very much for conceding that gay people have had a crap time throughout history and that, yes, sometimes, you know, not too much, the church has been an engine for vile bigotry and, oops, still is.

And boy does it get better. This mealy-mouthed cleric has more Thought For The Day wisdom bomb to drop: “…that baleful history does not diminish the need to speak the truth in love.” Truth? To mangle Tybalt: What, drawn and talk of truth? I hate the word as I hate hell, all patronising preachers and thee.

Here’s the kernel of jumping John’s argument:

I firmly believe that redefining marriage to embrace same-sex relationships would mean diminishing the meaning of marriage for most people with very little, if anything, gained for homosexual people. If I am right, in the long-term we would all be losers.

Oh yes. I know that giving gay people the right to express their love as straight couples do would boil my brain within my skull. How the hell can those bastards even dare to suggest that they might have equality in the law? Sweet little baby Jesus wearing a cute babygro emblazoned “Is this dude tripping?”. Sentamu pulls out all the classic anti-equality arguments and it is disgusting, whatever his sweet, folksy presentation.

He goes on:

Drawing parallels between the proposed same-sex marriage and inter-racial marriage ignores the fact that there is more than one paradigm of equality . . . should there be equality between the sexes because a woman can do anything a man can do or because a good society needs the different perspectives of women and men equally?

Dragging Mary Wollstonecraft onto his side, Sentamu says:

Unless one believes that every difference between the sexes is a mere social construct, the question of equality between the sexes cannot be completely addressed by the paradigm of racial equality. Defining marriage as between a man and a woman is not discriminatory against same-sex couples. What I am pressing for is a kind of social pluralism that does not degenerate into fancy-free individualism.

Fancy-free individualism. It takes some skill to pack so much offensiveness into three seemingly sweet words. Sentamu cheerleads marriage but goes on to say, so what if gay people don’t have the right to it as civil partnerships are really, really awesome and basically the same. It is a disingenuous argument. If civil partnerships are different but essentially equal to marriage why not call the union between man and man and woman and woman a marriage just as that of a man and woman?

Sentamu says:

The question for me is one of justice and not equality . . .it does not mean not treating everyone the same way but giving everyone what they need or deserve . . . equality follows justice and secures its consistent administration . . . if it was a question of justice, what injustice would result from not turning civil partners into married couples? I suggest: no injustice.

I suggest: bullshit. Colossal bullshit. Bullshit of biblical proportions, appropriately. Of course there is injustice, because in making gay people have civil partnerships (which straight people are not entitled to enter into), they are being placed in a different section of society. They do not have all the rights accorded to heterosexual people. They cannot sit at the same lunch counter, cannot choose the same bus seats as the straights. This is a fundamental question of equality. To deny that is to be on the side of evil, no matter how twinkly your smile is.

Here’s what Sentamu thinks marriage does: “Marriage is built around complementarity of the sexes and therefore the institution of marriage is a support for stable families and societies.” Run your eye over the divorce stats and tell me how that’s going. And for your supplementary homework, tell me why gay couples' love is not conducive for family and societal stability. If you can give me a good answer, I might even pretend your invisible opinion former exists.

Mic Wright is a freelance writer. This piece originally appeared on his blog. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbottleboy

Mic Wright is a freelance journalist.

David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide