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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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.