Gay voters go red or yellow -- but never blue

Anti-gay comments by a Conservative candidate in Ayrshire, Philip Lardner, are just the latest stage in the peeling away of the Tories’ gay-friendly façade.

For the LGBT community, the case against voting Tory continues to solidify -- it increasingly seems that, beneath their new, shiny, rainbow-coloured surface, much of the party consists of the Thatcherite homophobes of old.

To paraphrase that old smoothie Loyd Grossman, let's take a look at the evidence: the weird alliance with far-right European homophobes including Michal Kaminsky; the shadow home secretary Chris Grayling agreeing that B&B owners should have the right to bar gay couples; Cameron's major gaffe in an interview in March with Gay Times, in which he seemed to say MPs should be allowed to vote against laws that uphold homosexuality as a human right; the shadow defence minister Julian Lewis saying he was against equalising the age of consent, as gay sex carries a high risk of Aids; the defection of two senior members of the Conservative gay group LGBTory to Labour; Cameron's anti-gay voting record . . . Who would live in a House like this? David Cameron, it's over to you . . .

The latest sorry chapter in the Tories' big gay unravelling came yesterday, as first reported by Pink News, when the Scottish Conservative candidate for North Ayrshire and Arran, Philip Lardner, said that he thought homosexuality was wrong and he -- like the Stagecoach boss Brian Souter ten years ago -- supported parents and teachers who opposed the teaching of gay equality.

On Lardner's website, he states clearly that "homosexuality is not normal" (yawn) and goes on:

The promotion of homosexuality by public bodies (as per Clause 28/section 2a in Scotland) was correctly outlawed by Mrs Thatcher's government. Toleration and understanding is one thing, but state promotion of homosexuality is quite another.

Christians (and most of the population) believe homosexuality to be somewhere between "unfortunate" and simply "wrong" and they should not be penalised for politely saying so -- good manners count, too, of course.

The current "law" is wrong and must be overturned in the interests of freedom as well as Christian values.

Cameron said he moved to sack Lardner "within minutes", but the damage had already been done. He has doubtless reformed the Conservatives' stance on gay issues to a great extent and exorcised much of the latent homophobia from senior levels of the party -- welcoming several openly gay MPs -- but there is no escaping the existence of the prejudiced (and often evangelical Christian) right-wing faction within the party at grass-roots level. It's for that reason that the vast majority of LGBT voters still want to steer well clear of them.

As my colleague George Eaton reported on Monday, support for the Tories among gay voters has collapsed to roughly 9 per cent, down from 39 per cent in June 2009, and justifiably so. The defected former head of LGBTory, Anastasia Beaumont-Bott, described the Conservatives' gay policy as "an elaborate deception":

It feels like there is a different message for every audience. I think we should think about what Mr Cameron's Conservatives stand for . . . A leopard does not change its spots.

Should we be surprised? This is, after all, the party that gave us rabid bigots (there, I said it!) such as Norman Tebbit, who recently made some characteristically compassionate comments about persecuted African homosexuals, and the battleaxe gay-rights opponent Janet Young; that introduced the punitive anti-gay legislation Section 28, and fought bitterly against its repeal, as well as voting against proposals to lower the age of consent.

When leader of the Tories, William Hague, we shouldn't forget, ordered every Tory MP to vote against the repeal of Section 28 in 1999 and viciously expelled Shaun Woodward from the party for daring not to do so (wisely, he crossed the carpet to Labour). Hague recently defended Grayling's B&B comments.

Since 1997, Labour, by constrast, has repealed Section 28; lowered the gay age of consent, first to 18 and then to 16; introduced same-sex civil partnerships; legalised adoption by gay couples; equalised the Sexual Offences Act; made homophobic abuse a hate crime; and given a commitment to work for LGBT rights at an international level. In short, if you'll excuse the neologism, Labour <hearts> the gays.

And how about the Lib Dems? Popularity for them among gay voters has soared, as a joint result of the Tories' blunders and the televised leaders' debates. With an LGBT eqality body, DELGA, that's an official part of the party, their policy on gay rights looks impressive, including tackling bullying in schools, getting tough on hate crime, increasing LGBT representation in parliament, ending the deportation of persecuted gay people to their home countries (something Jacqui Smith was slated for doing), and campaigning for "marriage without borders" -- "for marriages and civil partnerships to be available in the UK to people regardless of gender, and for same-sex partnerships to be recognised throughout Europe and internationally". The last is something Nick Clegg has personally endorsed.

Thomas Calvocoressi is Chief Sub (Digital) at the New Statesman and writes about visual arts for the magazine.

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Theresa May "indifferent" towards Northern Ireland, says Alliance leader Naomi Long

The non-sectarian leader questioned whether the prime minister and James Brokenshire have the “sensitivity and neutrality” required to resolve the impasse at Stormont.

Theresa May’s decision to call an early election reflects her “indifference” towards the Northern Ireland peace process, according to Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, who has accused both the prime minister and her Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire of lacking the “sensitivity and neutrality” required to resolve the political impasse at Stormont.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman, Long – who is running to regain her former Belfast East seat from the DUP for her non-sectarian party in June – accused the Conservatives of “double messaging” over its commitment to Northern Ireland’s fragile devolution settlement. The future of power-sharing province remains in doubt as parties gear up for the province’s fourth election campaign in twelve months.

Asked whether she believed the prime minister – who has been roundly criticised at Stormont for her decision to go to the country early – truly cared about Northern Ireland, Long’s assessment was blunt. “We have had no sense at any time, even when she was home secretary, that she has any sensitivity towards the Northern Ireland process or any interest in engaging with it at all... It speaks volumes that, when she did her initial tour when she was prime minister, Northern Ireland was fairly low down on her list.”

The timing of the snap election has forced Brokenshire to extend the deadline for talks for a fourth time – until the end of June – which Long said was proof “Northern Ireland and its problems were not even considered” in the prime minister’s calculations. “I think that’s increasingly a trend we’ve seen with this government,” she said, arguing May’s narrow focus on Brexit and pursuing electoral gains in England had made progress “essentially almost impossible”.

“They really lack sensitivity – and appear to be tone deaf to the needs of Scotland and Northern Ireland,” she said. “They are increasingly driven by an English agenda in terms of what they want to do. That makes it very challenging for those of us who are trying to restore devolution, which is arguably in the worst position it’s been in [since the Assembly was suspended for four years] in 2003.”

The decisive three weeks of post-election talks will now take place in the weeks running up to Northern Ireland’s loyalist parade season in July, which Long said was “indicative of [May’s] indifference” and would make compromise “almost too big an ask for anyone”. “The gaps between parties are relatively small but the depth of mistrust is significant. If we have a very fractious election, then obviously that timing’s a major concern,” she said. “Those three weeks will be very intense for us all. But I never say never.”

But in a further sign that trust in Brokenshire’s ability to mediate a settlement among the Northern Irish parties is deteriorating, she added: “Unless we get devolution over the line by that deadline, I don’t think it can be credibly further extended without hitting James Brokenshire’s credibility. If you continue to draw lines in the sand and let people just walk over them then that credibility doesn’t really exist.”

The secretary of state, she said, “needs to think very carefully about what his next steps are going to be”, and suggested appointing an independent mediator could provide a solution to the current impasse given the criticism of Brokenshire’s handling of Troubles legacy issues and perceived partisan closeness to the DUP. “We’re in the bizarre situation where we meet a secretary of state who says he and his party are completely committed to devolution when they ran a campaign, in which he participated, with the slogan ‘Peace Process? Fleece Process!’ We’re getting double messages from the Conservatives on just how committed to devolution they actually are.”

Long, who this week refused to enter into an anti-Brexit electoral pact with Sinn Fein and the SDLP, also criticised the government’s push for a hard Brexit – a decision which she said had been taken with little heed for the potentially disastrous impact on Northern Ireland - and said the collapse of power-sharing at Stormont was ultimately a direct consequence of the destabilisation brought about by Brexit.

 Arguing that anything other than retaining current border arrangements and a special status for the province within the EU would “rewind the clock” to the days before the Good Friday agreement, she said: “Without a soft Brexit, our future becomes increasingly precarious and divided. You need as Prime Minister, if you’re going to be truly concerned about the whole of the UK, to acknowledge and reflect that both in terms of tone and policy. I don’t think we’ve seen that yet from Theresa May.”

She added that the government had no answers to the “really tough questions” on Ireland’s post-Brexit border. “This imaginary vision of a seamless, frictionless border where nobody is aware that it exists...for now that seems to me pie in the sky.”

However, despite Long attacking the government of lacking the “sensitivity and neutrality” to handle the situation in Northern Ireland effectively, she added that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn had similarly failed to inspire confidence.

“Corbyn has no more sensitivity to what’s going on in Northern Ireland at the moment than Theresa May,” she said, adding that his links to Sinn Fein and alleged support for IRA violence had made him “unpalatable” to much of the Northern Irish public. “He is trying to repackage that as him being in some sort of advance guard for the peace process, but I don’t think that’s the position from which he and John McDonnell were coming – and Northern Irish people know that was the case.” 

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.

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