Lez Miserable: Is it time to admit that being a lesbian just isn’t “punk” any more?

Enter lesbians. Observe lesbians. Exeunt.

Lesbians are always having “firsts”: the first British pre-watershed televised lesbian kiss (Brookside in 1994), the first lesbian in space (Sally Ride in 1983). These debuts are usually met with a fervent yet fleeting “Yeah, go us!” from the lesbian community, before we go out to look for something to get angry about to balance the joy of progress.

Most recently, we’ve been raising our G&Ts to the Disney Channel’s first gay couple, who also happen to be women. In spite of a spirited, troglodytic protest campaign by the US anti-gay group One Million Moms, the channel has aired an episode of the family comedy Good Luck Charlie featuring a pair of lesbian mums. What are the social implications of the Disney-fication of dykes? I’m sure that lesbian mums being given the Mickey-shaped seal of approval has the “traditional values” salesman Walt Disney turning in his grave like a rotisserie chicken. Then again, the Disney philosophy has undergone some (exceptionally slow) modernisation since its originator’s death in 1966. Bear in mind that there was a black US president before there was a black Disney princess.

Since the 1930s, children have been raised on Disney. I was one of the more recent ones. Some of my earliest memories of possible gay references in films are based on the implicit homosexuality of Disney villains, from the superbly camp Captain Hook (what exactly was his relationship with Mr Smee?) to Aladdin’s sexually ambiguous nemesis, Jafar. At times, it felt as if Disney were whispering in children’s ears: “Gay men are evil.” References to lesbianism were seemingly non-existent.

The lesbians in Good Luck Charlie are minor characters, yet in terms of sticking it to Disney’s socially conservative demographic, it was still a bold move to include them. What’s more, the “two mums” thing isn’t treated as an issue. The scene goes roughly as follows:

Enter lesbians.

Dad: Oh, look, little Susie [or whoever] has two mums – that’s cool.

Exeunt.

In a sense, it’s rather sad to watch as the subversiveness of lesbianism is diluted by Disney. It induces the same kind of disappointment as when Iggy Pop was in those car insurance ads. Perhaps it’s time to admit that being lesbian isn’t punk any more. We get married, vote for mainstream political parties and appear in Disney comedies. If that’s what it takes for children to learn that being gay is normal, then it’s a worthwhile sacrifice.
 

Britain’s first pre-watershed(!) lesbian kiss in 1994, on Channel 4

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron the captive

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
Show Hide image

Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

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