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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Ken Livingstone says publicly what many are saying privately: tomorrow belongs to John McDonnell

The Shadow Chancellor has emerged as a frontrunner should another Labour leadership election happen. 

“It would be John.” Ken Livingstone, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most vocal allies in the media, has said publicly what many are saying privately: if something does happen to Corbyn, or should he choose to step down, place your bets on John McDonnell. Livingstone, speaking to Russia Today, said that if Corbyn were "pushed under a bus", John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, would be the preferred candidate to replace him.

Even among the Labour leader’s allies, speculation is rife as to if the Islington North MP will lead the party into the 2020 election. Corbyn would be 71 in 2020 – the oldest candidate for Prime Minister since Clement Attlee lost the 1955 election aged 72.

While Corbyn is said to be enjoying the role at present, he still resents the intrusion of much of the press and dislikes many of the duties of the party leader. McDonnell, however, has impressed even some critics with his increasingly polished TV performances and has wowed a few sceptical donors. One big donor, who was thinking of pulling their money, confided that a one-on-one chat with the shadow chancellor had left them feeling much happier than a similar chat with Ed Miliband.

The issue of the succession is widely discussed on the left. For many, having waited decades to achieve a position of power, pinning their hopes on the health of one man would be unforgivably foolish. One historically-minded trade union official points out that Hugh Gaitskell, at 56, and John Smith, at 55, were 10 and 11 years younger than Corbyn when they died. In 1994, the right was ready and had two natural successors in the shape of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in place. In 1963, the right was unprepared and lost the leadership to Harold Wilson, from the party's centre. "If something happens, or he just decides to call it a day, [we have to make sure] it will be '94 not '63," they observed.

While McDonnell is just two years younger than Corbyn, his closest ally in politics and a close personal friend, he is seen by some as considerably more vigorous. His increasingly frequent outings on television have seen him emerge as one of the most adept media performers from the Labour left, and he has won internal plaudits for his recent tussles with George Osborne over the tax bill.

The left’s hopes of securing a non-Corbyn candidate on the ballot have been boosted in recent weeks. The parliamentary Labour party’s successful attempt to boot Steve Rotheram off the party’s ruling NEC, while superficially a victory for the party’s Corbynsceptics, revealed that the numbers are still there for a candidate of the left to make the ballot. 30 MPs voted to keep Rotheram in place, with many MPs from the left of the party, including McDonnell, Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John Trickett, abstaining.

The ballot threshold has risen due to a little-noticed rule change, agreed over the summer, to give members of the European Parliament equal rights with members of the Westminster Parliament. However, Labour’s MEPs are more leftwing, on the whole, than the party in Westminster . In addition, party members vote on the order that Labour MEPs appear on the party list, increasing (or decreasing) their chances of being re-elected, making them more likely to be susceptible to an organised campaign to secure a place for a leftwinger on the ballot.

That makes it – in the views of many key players – incredibly likely that the necessary 51 nominations to secure a place on the ballot are well within reach for the left, particularly if by-election selections in Ogmore, where the sitting MP, is standing down to run for the Welsh Assembly, and Sheffield Brightside, where Harry Harpham has died, return candidates from the party’s left.

McDonnell’s rivals on the left of the party are believed to have fallen short for one reason or another. Clive Lewis, who many party activists believe could provide Corbynism without the historical baggage of the man himself, is unlikely to be able to secure the nominations necessary to make the ballot.

Any left candidate’s route to the ballot paper runs through the 2015 intake, who are on the whole more leftwing than their predecessors. But Lewis has alienated many of his potential allies, with his antics in the 2015 intake’s WhatsApp group a sore point for many. “He has brought too much politics into it,” complained one MP who is also on the left of the party. (The group is usually used for blowing off steam and arranging social events.)

Lisa Nandy, who is from the soft left rather than the left of the party, is widely believed to be in the running also, despite her ruling out any leadership ambitions in a recent interview with the New Statesman.However, she would represent a break from the Corbynite approach, albeit a more leftwing one than Dan Jarvis or Hilary Benn.

Local party chairs in no doubt that the shadow chancellor is profiling should another leadership election arise. One constituency chair noted to the New Statesman that: “you could tell who was going for it [last time], because they were desperate to speak [at events]”. Tom Watson, Caroline Flint, Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall all visited local parties across the country in preparation for their election bids in 2015.

Now, speaking to local party activists, four names are mentioned more than any other: Dan Jarvis, currently on the backbenches, but in whom the hopes – and the donations – of many who are disillusioned by the current leadership are invested, Gloria De Piero, who is touring the country as part of the party’s voter registration drive, her close ally Jon Ashworth, and John McDonnell.

Another close ally of Corbyn and McDonnell, who worked closely on the leadership election, is in no doubt that the shadow chancellor is gearing up for a run should the need arise.  “You remember when that nice Mr Watson went touring the country? Well, pay attention to John’s movements.”

As for his chances of success, McDonnell may well be even more popular among members than Corbyn himself. He is regularly at or near the top of LabourList's shadow cabinet rankings, and is frequently praised by members. Should he be able to secure the nominations to get on the ballot, an even bigger victory than that secured by Corbyn in September is not out of the question.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.