The Queen "fights for gay rights" . . . oh really?

Interrogating the Mail on Sunday's tissue-thin front-page story.

Good old The Queen, eh? In between waving and opening garden centres, she's now become a female Peter Tatchell.

At least, that's what today's Mail on Sunday front page story would have you believe with its front page headline: Queen fights for gay rights.

Simon Walters, who was this week named Political Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards, reports:

The Queen will tomorrow back an historic pledge to promote gay rights and ‘gender equality’ in one of the most controversial acts of her reign. In a live television broadcast, she will sign a new charter designed to stamp out discrimination against homosexual people and promote the ‘empowerment’ of women – a key part of a new drive to boost human rights and living standards across the Commonwealth. 

Leaving aside "an historic" - which makes me wince - what is this controversial pledge? It's the new Commonwealth Charter, which states: "We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds."

Walters reports:

The ‘other grounds’ is intended to refer to sexuality – but specific reference to ‘gays and lesbians’ was omitted in deference to Commonwealth countries with draconian anti-gay laws.

So, to recap: the Queen is today making a speech about the new Commonwealth Charter, which she did not write, and indeed, she did not have any say in its wording. In the charter, there is a reference to discrimination on "other grounds", which are not made explicit.

Furthermore, as Walters himself acknowledges, several Commonwealth countries have harsh anti-gay laws. In Uganda, for example, homosexuality is already criminal offence: but that was not enough, and in 2009 legislators tried to institute the death penalty as punishment. That "Kill The Gays Bill" is still working its way through parliament. Homosexuality is also illegal in Trinidad and Tobago, Nigeria, Tanzania, Pakistan and others (see a full list of Commonwealth countries here and of anti-gay laws here).

So: the charter says nothing about gay rights, and several Commonwealth countries execute gay people. It would clearly be wonderful if the Queen were fighting for gay rights, but . . . she's really not.

So what's this story all about?

In her speech, the Queen is expected to stress that the rights must ‘include everyone’ - and this is seen as an implicit nod to the agenda of inclusivity, usually championed by the Left.

. . .

Insiders say her backing for full ‘gender equality’ and ‘women’s empowerment’ – using language until recently considered the preserve of Left-wing activists – is equally significant. 

Oh, the Left. I knew they would have something to do with it. To be honest, I think the Queen - the head of state of more than a dozen countries - is fine with "women's empowerment". Who needs to wear a Union Jack dress when your face is on everyone's money?

Disco Queen. Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496