The Sun asks: “Should gay people be cabinet ministers?”

From the paper which warned you that a “gay mafia” was running the country.

David Laws's resignation prompted many thoughtful pieces on why, in this more tolerant age, a respected politician felt the need to conceal his sexuality. But today's Sun has no time for such liberal hand-wringing. Instead, the red-top runs a poll asking: "Should gay people be cabinet ministers?"

It isn't the fear that some Sun editors believe that gays should be barred from the cabinet that troubles me (they surely don't); it's the fact that the paper views this as a legitimate and worthwhile debate.

There is no reason why Laws's fate should lead anyone to question whether gay people should be in the cabinet. Gay politicians -- including Chris Smith, Nick Brown, Ben Bradshaw and Peter Mandelson -- have all served with distinction in the past 13 years.

By the Sun's logic, were a Jewish minister to resign, we would be compelled to ask: "Should Jewish people be cabinet ministers?"

There is, of course, an unhappy precedent for this sort of thing. It was the Sun that, in 1998, demanded: "Tell us the truth Tony: are we being run by a gay mafia?" This after Blair's cabinet was found to contain, fairly unremarkably, four gay ministers. David Yelland, the then editor of the paper, has since revealed that he was "horrified" by the headline, which was written in his absence.

Twelve years on, after the introduction of civil partnerships, the repeal of Section 28, the equalisation of the age of consent and the legalisation of gay adoption, it's disturbing that Britain's biggest-selling paper still treats gay people as if they're second-class citizens.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.