Philip Hammond taken to task over anti-gay rights record

The Defence Secretary says civil partnerships make the introduction of equal marriage unnecessary, but he didn't vote for them in 2004.

Philip Hammond was one of four cabinet ministers not to vote in favour of gay marriage (he abstained along with Attorney General Dominic Grieve; Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and Welsh Secretary David Jones voted against) and the Defence Secretary did nothing to hide his opposition to the policy on last night's Question Time. He said:


This change does redefine marriage. For millions and millions of people who are married, the meaning of marriage changes.

There is a real sense of anger among many people who are married that any government thinks it has the ability to change the definition of an institution like marriage.

Hammond went on to argue that the introduction of civil partnerships had already addressed the "very real disadvantage" that gay couples faced. "There was no huge demand for this [gay marriage] and we didn't need to spend a lot of Parliamentary time and upset vast numbers of people in order to do this."

The Defence Secretary's line -  that the existence of civil partnerships means the introduction of equal marriage is unnecessary - is one often used by Conservative MPs. But as Labour's Chris Byrant pointed out, what Hammond is less keen for the public to know is that he wasn't in favour of them at the time the legislation was passed in 2004 (he repeatedly abstained). Worse, he voted against:

-The equalisation of the age of consent.

-The repeal of Section 28.

-Allowing same-sex couples to adopt.

-The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which removed the requirement for a father and a mother to be considered when taking account of the welfare of a child who may be born as a result of fertility treatment. Instead, the law stipulated the need for "supportive parenting".

Hammond isn't the first opponent of gay marriage to grandstand as a supporter of equality. Conservative MP Edward Leigh, for instance, has argued: "Same-sex couples already have all the rights of marriage in the form of civil partnership. Why must they also have the language of marriage?" Former Tory defence minister Gerald Howarth has commented: "some of my best friends are in civil partnerships, which is fine, but I think it would be a step too far to suggest that this is marriage", while Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who is expected to vote against equal marriage today, has said that the government is "rightly committed to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and has already taken action to do so by allowing those religious premises that wish to carry out civil partnerships to do so".

But what none of these three will tell you is that they all voted against civil partnerships in 2004. MPs are, of course, free to change their minds and we should praise them when they do. But it's hard not to see their new-found support for civil partnerships as a cynical attempt to prevent the equalisation of marriage. Gay couples might already have a means of formalising their relationships but they wouldn't if Paterson, Leigh and Howarth had had their way in 2004.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond stands in front of a Rapier System ground-to-air missile launcher during a visit to RAF Waddington near Lincoln. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn has transformed Labour from resisting social movements to supporting them

The opposition's new leadership has brought about a historic shift in its relationship with social movements.

“Another world is possible,” declared John McDonnell last month in his first major speech as Labour’s new shadow chancellor. These four words show how Labour’s leadership views its relationship with activists and campaigners outside the Westminster system. The slogan is the motto of the World Social Forum, an annual alternative to the ultra-elite World Economic Forum, formed by social movements across the world to struggle against, and build alternatives to, neoliberalism.

How times change. In a speech given at the George Bush Senior Presidential Library in Texas, United States, in April 2002, Labour leader and British Prime Minister Tony Blair offered his support to the administrators of the global economy, not those demonstrating against them.

He said: “It's time we took on the anti-globalisation protestors who seek to disrupt the meetings international leaders have on these issues. What the poor world needs is not less globalisation but more. Their injustice is not globalisation but being excluded from it. Free enterprise is not their enemy; but their friend.”

In 2002, Labour’s leadership wanted to take on social movements. Now, it intends to engage with and support them. “The new kind of politics” of Labour’s new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is about more than focusing on issues over personalities and (anti-) presentational changes.

It is also “a new politics which is based on returning the Labour party to its roots. And the roots of the Labour party was as a social movement, representing the vast majority of working people in this country,” as McDonnell, Corbyn’s closest political ally, explains to the New Statesman.

Campaigners outside of the Labour party are excited. John Hilary, executive director of War on Want, a campaigning anti-poverty NGO, tells the New Statesman, “there’s a really positive impulse to the Corbyn/McDonnell leadership reaching out” to social movements. For Hilary, the immediate policy changes on TTIP – the EU-US investor rights, regulation harmonisation and non-tariff barriers deal negotiated behind closed doors – and a Financial Transaction Tax have already sent “a message to a disenfranchised part of the electorate that Labour is back”.

But, for the campaigners outside of the Labour party, this moment is not without risks. Political parties have a long record of crushing the autonomy of social movements.

“It’s important they aren’t incorporated or have to work on the terms of the political system. It’s a matter of a respectful relationship,” explains Hilary Wainwright, a political activist and founder and co-editor of Red Pepper magazine. Wainwright argues for “close engagement [between Labour and outside campaigners] that isn’t a bossy dominating one. One that seeks to collaborate, not govern”.

McDonnell agrees. “The most important thing,” he says, “is that all of the campaigns and social movements that are campaigning at the moment and those that will campaign in the future, need to maintain their autonomy from government and political parties. We respect that . . . Otherwise, we’ll undermine their vitality and their independence.”

To remain “strong, independent and radical” is “the most helpful” campaigners can be to Labour’s leadership, according to Hilary. Labour’s leadership “don’t look to us to make the sort of political compromises that they might have to do in order to hold a much broader spectrum of people together. What we can do best is hold that line as we believe it be right and support the Labour leadership in taking a line as close as possible to that”, he says.

The task for social movements and campaigners outside of the party is “to show how there will be popular support for radical and principled positions”, according to Hilary.

To win in 2020, Labour will “bring together a coalition of social movements that have changed the political climate in this country and, as a result of that, changed the electoral potential of the Labour Party as well”, says McDonnell. For Labour’s shadow chancellor, the people's views on issues are complex and fluid rather than static, making the job of politicians to bump up as close to them as possible.

Movements can help shift political common sense in Labour’s direction. Just as UK Uncut placed the issue of tax avoidance and tax justice firmly on the political map, so too can other campaigners shift the political terrain.

This movement-focused perspective may, in part, explain why the Corbyn campaign chose to transform itself last week into the Momentum movement, a grassroots network open to those without Labour membership cards. This approach stands in contrast to Blair’s leadership campaign that evolved into Progress, a New Labour pressure group and think tank made up of party members.

In order to allow movements the space to change the terms of the debate and for Labour to develop policy in conjunction with them, the party needs “to engage with movements on their own terms”, according to Wainwright. This means “the party leadership need to find out where people are struggling and where people are campaigning and specifically work with them”, she continues.

McDonnell says it will. He says Labour “want to work alongside them, give them a parliamentary voice, give them a voice in government but, more importantly, assist them in the work that they do within the wide community, both in meetings, demonstrations and on picket lines”.

This position is not one you would expect from McDonnell’s five more recent predecessors: Chris Leslie, Ed Balls, Alan Johnson, Alistair Darling, Gordon Brown. So, “this may seem like a unique moment if you’re looking just within the British context. But, if you look outside Britain it’s actually much more in touch with movements in many places in the world”, says Hilary.

He adds: “Political parties are going to have to have much more honest engagements between parliamentary politics and the social movement hinterland. For us, it just means that in a wonderful way, Britain is catching up with the rest of the world.”

McDonnell too sees this shift in how Labour engages with movements as “a historic change that modernises the Labour party”.

But, perhaps for Labour, this is a recurrence rather than a transformation. The party grew out of Britain’s biggest social movement: the unions. Labour’s new leadership’s openness to campaigners “modernises it by taking it back to being a social movement again”, says McDonnell.