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.

Photo: Getty
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As long as the Tories fail to solve the housing crisis, they will struggle to win

The fall in the number of homeowners leaves the Conservatives unable to sell capitalism to those with no capital. 

For the Conservatives, rising home ownership was once a reliable route to government. Former Labour voters still speak of their gratitude to Margaret Thatcher for the Right to Buy scheme. But as home ownership has plummeted, the Tories have struggled to sell capitalism to a generation without capital. 

In Britain, ownership has fallen to 63.5 per cent, the lowest rate since 1987 and the fourth-worst in the EU. The number of private renters now exceeds 11 million (a larger number than in the social sector). The same policies that initially promoted ownership acted to reverse it. A third of Right to Buy properties fell into the hands of private landlords. High rents left tenants unable to save for a deposit.

Rather than expanding supply, the Tories have focused on subsidising demand (since 2010, housebuilding has fallen to its lowest level since 1923). At a cabinet meeting in 2013, shortly after the launch of the government’s Help to Buy scheme, George Osborne declared: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom and everyone will be happy as property values go up”. The then-chancellor’s remark epitomised his focus on homeowners. Conservative policy was consciously designed to enrich the propertied.

A new report from the Resolution Foundation, Home Affront: housing across the generations, shows the consequences of such short-termism. Based on recent trends, less than half of millennials will buy a home before the age of 45 compared to over 70 per cent of baby boomers. Four out of every ten 30-year-olds now live in private rented accommodation (often of substandard quality) in contrast to one in ten 50 years ago. And while the average family spent just 6 per cent of their income on housing costs in the early 1960s, this has trebled to 18 per cent. 

When Theresa May launched her Conservative leadership campaign, she vowed to break with David Cameron’s approach. "Unless we deal with the housing deficit, we will see house prices keep on rising," she warned. "The divide between those who inherit wealth and those who don’t will become more pronounced. And more and more of the country’s money will go into expensive housing instead of more productive investments that generate more economic growth."

The government has since banned letting agent fees and announced an additional £1.4bn for affordable housing – a sector entirely neglected by Cameron and Osborne (see graph below). Social housing, they believed, merely created more Labour voters. "They genuinely saw housing as a petri dish for voters," Nick Clegg later recalled. "It was unbelievable." 

But though housebuilding has risen to its highest levels since 2008, with 164,960 new homes started in the year to June 2017 and 153,000 completed, this remains far short of the 250,000 required merely to meet existing demand (let alone make up the deficit). In 2016/17, the government funded just 944 homes for social rent (down from 36,000 in 2010). 

In a little-noticed speech yesterday, Sajid Javid promised a "top-to-bottom" review of social housing following the Grenfell fire. But unless this includes a substantial increase in public funding, the housing crisis will endure. 

For the Conservatives, this would pose a great enough challenge in normal times. But the political energy absorbed by Brexit, and the £15bn a year it is forecast to cost the UK, makes it still greater.

At the 2017 general election, homeowners voted for the Tories over Labour by 55 per cent to 30 per cent (mortgage holders by 43-40). By contrast, private renters backed Labour by 54 per cent to 31 per cent. As long as the latter multiply in number, while the former fall, the Tories will struggle to build a majority-winning coalition. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.