Lez Miserable: “Everyone's coming out, including Hillary Clinton and Snoop Lion”

While it’s great to have Hillary and Snoop on board the equal marriage bandwagon, Eleanor can’t help feeling they care a little bit too much about vote-chasing and record sales to be celebrated as true converts to the cause just yet.

 

Everyone’s coming out. From Hillary Clinton to Snoop Lion (the former Mr Snoop Dogg), some of America’s most influential people are “evolving” and embracing same-sex marriage. As the US Supreme Court examines the constitutionality of the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) – which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, barring gays and lesbians from receiving federal spousal benefits – gay rights activists are picking up allies in the most unlikely of places. From rappers to Republicans like Ohio Senator Rob Portman, the voices demanding equality for same-sex couples are growing more diverse by the day.

Rainbow is the new black, and I mean that quite literally. In the 1960s, the campaign for desegregation shifted from being a minority issue to something demanded by the majority of the American public. The push for gay rights has now reached a similar tipping point. Of course, marriage is only the beginning. Just as post-Civil Rights America remains riddled with racism, there’s little chance of DOMA’s possible repeal erasing so many Americans’ deep-seated hatred of LGBT people.

It’s a start, at least. But you can’t help but wonder how many recent high-profile reversals on marriage equality were driven by political or commercial concerns. Take Mrs Clinton. In 1996, Hillary Clinton did a bad thing. She backed DOMA. Staunchly. When her husband put his big, fat, swirly (I imagine) signature on a piece of paper that said, “gays shall not marry”, she was right behind him. Now, seventeen years later, she claims to have “evolved”. This term, first used by President Obama to describe his U-turn on equal marriage, has become a buzzword in this latest fight for gay rights. It couldn’t be more perfect. (And by the by, it must go down like a bowl of cold grits in the creationist Bible Belt.) Because, absolutely, when you change your view on gay marriage from con to pro, you transform from grunting Neanderthal who chucks poo at mammoths for a laugh, to a homo sapiens who uses a toilet and sees nothing funny about turd-throwing whatsoever. No, really.

Now, we all know that the chances of the newly “evolved” Hill-meister running for President in 2016 are decent. So, funny isn’t it? Funny that the first potential Madam President should suddenly, as she gears up for a massive vote grabathon, start waving a rainbow flag along with all the cool kids. And her “evolution” is aimed at The Kids. According to the Pew research organisation, 70 per cent of Americans aged 18 to 32 approve of same-sex marriage – too big a demographic for any wannabe White House resident to ignore. See, we gays have fun. I can’t help feeling that Hillary Clinton is showing up to our big, sparkly hootenanny with a box of petrol station Ferrero Rocher, and a goofy grin.

And, hey, we’re a friendly bunch – so of course we’re going to vote her in. I’m not saying that anyone who’s prepared publicly to stand up for gays should be shunned even if their motive is arguably open to interpretation. We need all the help we can get, and if that means partying with fuddy-duddies, so be it. But why are we letting these people suggest that their, post-deep consideration, support for granting gays one of the most basic human rights is some grand gesture? I can only speculate on how Hillary Clinton would feel if Chelsea decided to shack up with, I don’t know, Belgravia. But, I’ll say it again, the woman backed DOMA. I can’t quite imagine her driving the removal van. Likewise, Snoop Lion/Dogg, a guy who’s never been opposed to throwing homophobic slurs into his lyrics, showing up at our big gay party seems just a little bit of a chutzpah.

As glad as we are to have him on board, an apology for the repeated use of the word “faggot” over a career spanning two decades would be nice. Same goes for 50 Cent, who’s also voiced support for the gay cause. Hey Fiddy, didn’t you tweet something about shooting up a gay wedding in a Twitter beef with Perez Hilton a few years ago?

So excuse us if we in the gay community don’t quite erect a statue in your honour and tell our grandchildren about the time you bravely “evolved” your stance on us marrying. As important as it is that the hip-hop world is starting to let go of some of its homophobia, I can’t help thinking that record sales, like Clinton’s ever-so-slightly brazen vote-mongering are playing some part in it.

Snoop Lion/Dog. Photograph: Getty Images

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

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Inside the progressive alliance that beat Zac Goldsmith in Richmond

Frantic phone calls, hundreds of volunteers, and Labour MPs constrained by their party. 

Politics for a progressive has been gloomy for a long time. On Thursday, in Richmond Park of all places, there was a ray of light. Progressive parties (at least some of them) and ordinary voters combined to beat Ukip, the Tories and their "hard Brexit, soft racist" candidate.

It didn’t happen by accident. Let's be clear, the Liberal Democrats do by-elections really well. Their activists flood in, and good luck to them. But Richmond Park was too big a mountain for even their focused efforts. No, the narrow win was also down to the fast growing idea of a progressive alliance. 

The progressive alliance is both a defensive and offensive move. It recognises the tactical weakness of progressives under first past the post – a system the Tories and their press know how to game. With progressive forces spilt between Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Women’s Equality Party and more – there is no choice but to co-operate, bring in proportional representation and then a whole new political world begins.

This move opens up the wider strategy – to end the domination of the City, and right-wing newspapers like the Mail, so Britain can have a real debate and make real choices about what sort of economy and society it wants. A pipedream? Well, maybe. But last night the fuse was lit in Richmond Park. The progressive alliance can work.

Months before the by-election, the pressure group for a progressive alliance that I chair, Compass, the Greens, and some Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP MPs and activists, began considering this. The alternative after Brexit was staring into the void.

Then the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith stepped down over Heathrow. To be fair, he had pledged to do this, and we should have been better prepared. In the event, urgent behind-the-scenes calls were made between the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. Compass acted as the safe house. The Greens, wonderfully, clung onto democracy – the local party had to decide. And they decided to stand up for a new politics. Andree Frieze would have been the Green candidate, and enjoyed her moment in the autumn sun. She and her party turned it down for a greater good. So did the Women’s Equality Party.

Meanwhile, what about Labour? Last time, they came a distant third. Again the phones were hit and meetings held. There was growing support not to stand. But what would they get back from the Liberal Democrats, and what did the rules say about not standing? It was getting close to the wire. I spent an hour after midnight, in the freezing cold of Aberdeen, on the phone to a sympathetic Labour MP trying to work out what the party rule book said before the selection meeting.

At the meeting, I am told, a move was made from the floor not to select. The London regional official ruled it out of order and said a candidate would be imposed if they didn’t select. Some members walked out at this point. Where was the new kinder, gentler politics? Where was membership democracy? Fast forward to last night, and the Labour candidate got less votes than the party has members.

The idea of a progressive alliance in Richmond was then cemented in a draughty church hall on the first Tuesday of the campaign – the Unitarian Church of course. Within 48 hours notice, 200 local activist of all parties and none had come together to hear the case for a progressive alliance. Both the Greens and Compass produced literature to make the case for voting for the best-placed progressive candidate. The Liberal Democrats wove their by-election magic. And together we won.

It’s a small victory – but it shows what is possible. Labour is going to have to think very hard whether it wants to stay outside of this, when so many MPs and members see it as common sense. The lurch to the right has to be stopped – a progressive alliance, in which Labour is the biggest tent in the campsite, is the only hope.

In the New Year, the Progressive Alliance will be officially launched with a steering committee, website and activists tool-kit. There will also be a trained by-election hit squad, manifestos of ideas and alliances build locally and across civil society.

There are lots of problems that lie ahead - Labour tribalism, the 52 per cent versus the 48 per cent, Scottish independence and the rest. But there were lots of problems in Richmond Park, and we overcame them. And you know, working together felt good – it felt like the future. The Tories, Ukip and Arron Banks want a different future – a regressive alliance. We have to do better than them. On Thursday, we showed we could.

Could the progressive alliance be the start of the new politics we have all hoped for?

Neal Lawson is the Chair of Compass, the pressure group for the progressive alliance.

Neal Lawson is chair of the pressure group Compass, which brings together progressives from all parties and none. His views on internal Labour matters are personal ones.