The Queen who hates queens

Observations on royal tolerance

Though tolerance was the theme of the Queen's Christmas message, it was apparently confined to those of diverse "race, creed or colour". The monarch pointedly refrained from extending her largesse to queers.

No surprise there. In the royal lexicon, gay is still the love that dares not speak its name. During her 53-year reign, Her Majesty has never publicly uttered the word homosexual, even though the annual Queen's Speech in parliament has on several occasions announced gay rights legislation, such as the equalisation of the age of consent.

The palace says the Queen cannot be a homophobe. Look at all the gay staff she employs. So what? Is having queer servants proof of an absence of prejudice? I think not. Until a few years ago, palace staff were banned from bringing same-sex partners to the annual royal household Christmas ball. This rule was overturned only after the gay rights group OutRage! protested outside Buckingham Palace. Why did it need a demonstration? Why could gay staff not have brought an employment discrimination suit? Because, if you recall, the Queen is exempt from equality legislation and can discriminate with impunity.

Royal homophobia extends to the condolences that are routinely sent to the victims of large-scale disasters and atrocities. When the neo-Nazi homophobe David Copeland bombed the Admiral Duncan gay pub in Soho in 1999, killing three people and mutilating 70 others, the Queen was silent and failed to send any message to the victims or their families.

When it comes to the New Year Honours list - I know honours are awarded on the advice of the Prime Minister, but let's not pretend that the Queen has no input - we find the same attitude. MBEs and knighthoods are awarded to time-serving flunkeys for no other reason than that they did their jobs. No honour has ever been bestowed on pioneers of the gay rights movement, such as Allan Horsfall and Antony Grey. They campaigned tirelessly in the 1950s and 1960s - making huge financial sacrifices and risking arrest and imprisonment - to pave the way for the freedoms that lesbians and gay men now enjoy. Champions of queer human rights, they stand head and shoulders above the typical honours recipient for their vision, dedication and courage.

But what can we expect, given how the Queen treats members of her own family? She has given no indication that she is willing to accept openness by gay Windsors.

God save the Queen? No thanks. Could someone instead please save us queens from that Queen.

Peter Tatchell is Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, which campaigns for human rights the UK and worldwide: His personal biography can be viewed here:

This article first appeared in the 10 January 2005 issue of the New Statesman, The other tsunami

David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

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

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide