David Davies is OK with Erasure, even though it's totally gay

The Tory MP adds that "now I've got Boy George's greatest hits, and I love it!"

David Davies, the Tory MP, is opposed to gay marriage - but is very keen to stress that he is not a homophobe. The only trouble is that every time he tries to clear the matter up, he inadvertantly makes it worse.

For example, after he was criticised for telling BBC Wales that "most parents would prefer their children not be gay", he responded by saying that he couldn't be a homophobe because he had once punched a gay man.

Today, he is interviewed in the Guardian, and comes across as a man genuinely, painedly, trying to make his case, but never quite managing it. Mostly because he seems obsessed with Erasure. 

For example, Davies worries about sex education including the mechanics of gay sex. Why?

When Davies was 16, a popular school friend had announced he was gay. Davies ran into him again at 19, "And it turned out the guy had got engaged. To a woman! And he absolutely didn't want to talk about what had gone on between the age of 16 and 19. He'd started coming down to the pub at 16 with, you know, splits in his jeans, and started buying Erasure albums, and all the rest of it – and three years later he's suddenly horrified by the whole thing!

"I suppose what I'm trying to say, in a very clumsy way, which will again probably cause offence, is that some people might be going through a bit of a funny phase between the age of 15 and 20 when they're not sure."

When the interviewer, Decca Aitkenhead, says that "no amount of familiarity with homosexual mechanics would have turned my 10-year-old self into a lesbian", he replies:

"But you're a lady, you're a woman, so you wouldn't have felt quite the same way. I mean, at school the girls all went out and bought Erasure without any issue."

But things are changing, and David Davies is happy about that:

"I make no bones about it, I'm a product of my upbringing and of the time I was brought up, so I'm not going to pretend not to be. It's not like I was brought up in San Francisco or somewhere like that.

"But I'm changing. This is going to sound quite appalling, but nobody in my circle of friends in 1986 would have admitted liking Erasure, or would have been seen dead going out and buying a Boy George CD. Now I've got Boy George's greatest hits, and I love it!"

In the earnestness with which he tries to engage with the issues - despite his obvious discomfort - Davies is beginning to remind me of Harry Enfield's dad with a gay son.

Erasure. Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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