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Back Clinton if you think it’s the only way to defeat Trump, but don’t pretend she’s an LGBT champion

Why do so many gays, and so many British Labour types (particularly so many gay Labourites), enthusiastically support the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton?

Why do so many gays, and so many British Labour types (particularly so many gay Labourites), enthusiastically support the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton? Let me add a strong caveat. I understand – though I don’t accept – a hard-headed, pragmatic argument for endorsing the former secretary of state. Donald Trump is, after all, a threat to the American republic, and (turn away now if you have a sensitive disposition), if he becomes president, a menace to global security.

I could present polls which consistently show Bernie Sanders does better than Clinton when matched up against Republican candidates: you could wearily retort that the figures will change after an inevitable Republican onslaught against a self-described socialist. Clearly, it would be an inspiring and overdue historical landmark for the US to elect its first female president. There is also an understandable revulsion at the sexism and misogyny – and not just from the right – that has been directed at Clinton.

But it’s the enthusiasm, sometimes bordering on the sort of devotion Justin Bieber receives, that I’ve never understood. The Blairite wing of the Labour Party has always attracted a large contingent of gay men, specifically, some of whom idolise Tony Blair like besotted teenagers. Yet that’s more understandable: say what you will about Blair (and I have), but from the equalisation of the age of consent to civil partnerships, there is no denying New Labour’s commendable record on LGBT rights. Clinton is the mystery. She receives endorsements from leading LGBT organisations and activists; here in Britain, LGBT Labour members garnish their Twitter feeds with declarations of being #readyforhillary. But where is the record to justify such zealous cheerleading?

Hillary Clinton’s almost farcically offensive intervention on HIV last week is a case in point. Lauding both Ronald and Nancy Reagan for beginning a “national conversation” about HIV/Aids, claiming that before the Reagans “nobody would talk about it” and “nobody wanted to do anything about it” was a very public insult to the memories of the tens of thousands of Americans who died from the illness, partly because of President Reagan’s inaction. LGBT Americans and their allies struggled to start a “national conversation” about HIV/Aids that Reagan did not want to have. Not only did Nancy Reagan callously fail to help her friend Rock Hudson as he died from the effects of the virus, but the president’s press secretary even joked repeatedly, in public, about an illness killing thousands of American citizens.

The uproar over Clinton’s comments forced her to backtrack and claim that she “misspoke”, a bizarre formulation she also employed in 2008 when she dishonestly claimed to have been forced to run for cover in Bosnia after coming under sniper fire. But really: how on Earth could she have “misspoken” such an obviously absurd claim? You don’t even need to know that much about American politics – let alone be a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, with decades of political experience touting yourself as an LGBT champion – to know about the Reagans’ contemptible role in the HIV/Aids epidemic.

Clinton was a high-profile opponent of equal marriage, only embracing the cause in 2013. Am I claiming Bernie Sanders was way ahead of his time? No: although he backed civil unions for many years, he didn’t come round to equal marriage until 2009. And there is a big difference between 2009 and 2013. By 2013, public opinion had swung decisively in favour of equal marriage. In 2009 a poll found that 57 per cent of Americans opposed equal marriage; by 2013, a poll showed 53 per cent now backed it. Sanders was in a minority of politicians who were ahead of public opinion; Clinton merely caught up with popular opinion and adjusted her position accordingly.

Indeed, Clinton defended her husband’s signing of the Defence of Marriage Act 1996, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman – and “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military as a defensive measure, rightly leading others to accuse her of historical revisionism. Perhaps she just misspoke again. When in 2002 she was booed after responding negatively on whether New York State should recognise equal marriage, she grinned like a Cheshire cat.

Then there’s Hillary’s hawkish foreign policy. The aftermath of the Iraq War, which she backed, has been calamitous for LGBT Iraqis. Similarly, after the 2009 military coup in Honduras (backed by Clinton) LGBT activists in that country were targeted by right-wing militias.

And yet it was Clinton who won the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign, the biggest LGBT organisation in the US. Of course, the LGBT rights movement is not homogeneous and never has been. There are those who, for instance, will argue for equality before the law but back economic policies that lead to slashing of support for LGBT services. And then there are those of us who believe that the battles for LGBT rights and economic justice are inseparable.

It is galling to see Clinton transformed, undeservedly, into some sort of LGBT icon. When I asked LGBT Labourites whom they would choose, if they could magically ensure either Sanders or Clinton becomes president, some made a passionate case for Clinton, despite a worse record on LGBT rights and although she’s to the right of not only Sanders, but even the British Conservatives on some issues. If people sincerely believe Clinton is their only chance of keeping Trump out the White House, I respect that view, even if I disagree with it. But let’s not pretend her record on LGBT rights is anything other than a mixture of opportunism, belatedness and outright dishonesty. 

Owen Jones is a left-wing columnist, author and commentator. He is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and writes a weekly column for the Guardian. He has published two books, Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class and The Establishment and How They Get Away With It.

This article first appeared in the 17 March 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Spring double issue

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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.