Lez Miserable: "Every time I kiss a woman in public, I risk homophobic abuse."

This is a time in which we gays should be kissing and holding hands anywhere and everywhere.

“Look… girls… kissing!” I blurt, dumbly, as Finnish Eurovision singer Krista Siegfrids locks lips with a PVC apron-clad dancer on stage, at the end of her performance of “Ding Dong”.

“Oh. OK,” my dad says, maintaining his ‘how does my gay daughter want me to feel about this?’ brand of neutrality.

My mum, half asleep on the sofa, is equally uninterested and mumbles something that sounds like it contains the word “Lebanons”.

My parents have a point. In an ideal world, a gay kiss on TV wouldn’t be comment-worthy. So why am I even remotely excited by the sight of two women kissing? Same-sex PDAs aren’t exactly new to me. They’re not even new to most TV-watching straight people. It’s all about context though. And within the context of a programme watched by the whole of Europe, much of which is deeply conservative, a gay kiss is a powerful statement. So, that Eurovision lesbian kiss (as well as the man-on-man one that cropped up later in host country Sweden’s half-time song) were both seminal moments for the camp, 57-year-old institution.

Gay Prides and Christmas aside, the gayest event of the year just came out. See, Eurovision is a bit like that guy you knew at school who had a posse of female friends (and yet no girlfriend…), knew the lyrics to the entire Destiny’s Child back catalogue and somehow managed to make school uniform look chic. A few years later, you bump into his sweaty, shirtless self in Heaven (the club, not the transcendental, godly realm – for all you heteros reading this) at 3am and he says, without a hint of irony, “Well, guess you never thought you’d find me here!”

Until last weekend, Eurovision’s gayness was all a bit tongue-in-cheek. The be-sequined, dry ice-oozing event was claimed by the LGBT community many years ago, but it’s never quite (in itself) acknowledged its prominence in gay culture. We’ve all rolled our eyes as Latvian men in skin-tight leather, with perfectly shaped eyebrows sing great warbling odes to their straightness. And Turkey made the ultimate, “what? Eurovision isn’t gay” statement this year, when it refused to broadcast the popular programme on account of the woman kissing a woman thing. So, now that the tongue has been removed from the cheek and placed firmly in the mouth of a member of the same sex, we can all breathe a great big sigh of relief. With the slightest of gestures (both gay kisses were pecks rather than full-on snogs) Eurovision has announced to its enormous LGBT fanbase that the love between them and the programme is requited. We queers love Eurovision and Eurovision loves us back.

Last week, an EU poll revealed that one quarter of the 93,000 LGBT people surveyed had experienced attacks or threats because of their sexuality. Without wanting to blow the Eurovision double gay kiss out of proportion, I think that in an obviously homophobic Europe it was an important nod to acceptance. Whether or not Finland’s entry did so badly in the completion (it came third from last) because of the lesbian kiss part of the song is a matter of speculation. It couldn’t have helped that the song was poor, even by Eurovision standards.

This year’s Eurovision reminded me of the subversive power of the gay PDA. On Monday, the equal marriage debate was dragged out yet again in the Commons and #AggressiveHomosexuals trended on Twitter. The phrase was jokingly hijacked by LGBT people and our supporters after it was used in earnest by former Tory defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth to describe the proponents of equal marriage. This is a time in which we gays should be kissing and holding hands anywhere and everywhere. I’m even prepared to stiffen my upper lip and pretend that lesbian PDAs don’t make me bitter about my singleness. I have a lot of gay friends who are extremely cautious about where they kiss their partners and that’s understandable, even in London. Every time I kiss a woman in public, I risk homophobic abuse. To be fair, the most extreme example of this I’ve ever experienced is a couple of teenage boys spluttering out something truly Wildean like, “Hah! Dykes!” But I think that now is the time, more than ever, to celebrate and practice uninhibited gay smooching. And when the equal marriage bill finally gets thorough, let’s marry the hell out of each other.

 

Krista Siegfrids, Finland's Eurovision entry, locks lips with a PVC apron-clad dancer on stage. Photograph: Getty Images

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

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Labour is condemned to watch helplessly as Theresa May consolidates power

The Zombie Party is too weak to win and too strong to die. 

Labour’s defeat to the Tories in the Copeland by-election in Cumbria, which the party had held for more than 80 years, is a humiliation for Jeremy Corbyn and his moribund party. This is the first time a governing party had gained a seat in a by-election since Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives won Mitchum and Morden in 1982. 
 
The victorious candidate Trudy Harrison, who increased the Tories’ share of the vote in this former Labour “stronghold" by more than 8 percentage points, hailed the victory as “truly historic”, while Labour MP John Woodcock called it a “disaster”, and even the shadow chancellor and Corbyn ally, John McDonnell, conceded it was a “profound disappointment”. 
 
At a time in the electoral cycle when a credible opposition should be winning by-elections and riding high in the polls, Labour is in disarray: rejected, humiliated, ridiculed. It has all but collapsed in Scotland, where the Tory leader Ruth Davidson has emerged as the popular, unapologetic leader of Unionism. And in England the danger now is not that it will lose seats to Ukip — whose leader Paul Nuttall was rejected yesterday in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election, which Labour held on a low turn-out after a dispiriting campaign — but to Theresa May’s Conservatives. 
 
The Copeland result was a vindication for Theresa May. When recently I interviewed her in Downing Street she had a simple message for Labour: we are coming after your voters – and she is. 
 
Because of its embrace of the radical left and internal divisions, May accused Labour of abandoning many of its traditional supporters. The party was not responding to their concerns on issues such as “the impact of immigration on lower income levels”.
 
True enough: Corbyn favours mass immigration and open borders yet is an economic protectionist – a classic Marxist position but electoral suicide in our new emerging post-liberal era in which populist movements are rising across Europe and an America First nationalist is in the White House.
 
“I hope there are Labour voters,” Theresa May told me, “out there who will now look at us afresh and say, ‘Labour hasn’t responded to our concerns, it hasn’t recognised what matters to us, but the Conservatives have seen that and are responding to it. I want our greater prosperity not to be confined to particular groups of people or a single part of the country.”
 
The polls suggest that more than simply disaffected Labour voters are looking at the Tories afresh, as we embark on the epic challenge of negotiating the Brexit settlement.
  
May believes that Brexit was not only a vote to leave the European Union but a demand for change from those people – many of them in places such as Copeland - who felt ignored and excluded from prosperity and greater opportunity.
 
Her vision is for a “Great Meritocracy” (whereas Corbyn’s is for a socialist republic) combining greater social justice with enhanced social mobility. It’s an intellectually fascinating and ambitious project and, if successful (and many doubt her, not least her own right wing), it has the potential to condemn Labour to electoral oblivion.
    
The collapse of the Labour party as a stable and credible political force is dismaying. Many of the party’s problems precede Corbyn, who is sincere and determined but is not a national leader. But then neither was Ed Miliband, who misunderstood the financial crisis, which he believed had created a “social democratic moment”, and misread the country he sought to govern. Miliband treated politics like an elevated Oxbridge PPE seminar and introduced the new rules by which the party elected its leader, disempowering MPs.
 
The distinguished Cambridge historian Robert Tombs has called the European Union a system of “managed discontents”. Something similar could be said of Corbyn’s Labour, except that its discontents are scarcely managed at all.

Most Labour MPs despise or are embarrassed by their leader. The MPs are divided and demoralised, with some pondering whether to follow Tristram Hunt and Jamie Reed (whose resignations created respectively the Stoke Central and Copeland by-elections) out of politics. The Corbynites are breaking up into factions (one hears talk of “hard” and “soft” Corbynites), and Corbyn himself is incapable of appealing to those who do not share his ideological convictions.
 
For now, the Labour leader retains the support of activists and members and, crucially, of Unite, Britain’s biggest union and the party’s paymaster. But even his friends must accept that he is leading the party in only one direction – into the abyss.
 
On the eve of the two by-elections, Corbyn posted a message on Facebook: “Whatever the results, the Labour Party – and our mass membership – must go further to break the failed political consensus, and win power to rebuild and transform Britain.”
 
The statement was received with derision on social media. The idea that Labour can win power any time soon (notwithstanding some black swan event) is magical thinking. Corbyn’s personal ratings among traditional working class semi-skilled and unskilled Labour voters are catastrophically poor. He appeals to students, affluent metropolitans with degrees, and minority groups. As for the majority of the electorate, forget it.
 
MPs are reluctant to challenge Jeremy Corbyn because they know any leadership contest would revitalize his leadership, as happened last summer when the Welsh MP Owen Smith mounted an ill-considered and doomed “coup”. Nor is there a pre-eminent candidate waiting in the shadows to strike, as Michael Heseltine was in the last years of the Thatcher administration.
 
So Labour will continue to be the Zombie Party: too weak to win but too strong to die. Its founding mission was to defend the labour interest and to create a fairer, more ethical society. But Labour has lost its role, its confidence and sense of purpose. Obsessed by identity liberalism, bewildered by Brexit and led by a radical socialist, Labour can only look on helplessly as the Tories start to win seats in its former heartlands and hunker down for another decade or more in power.

This column was originally published in the London Evening Standard.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.