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.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.