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.

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The Brexit effect: The fall in EU migration spells trouble for the UK

The 84,000 fall in net migration to 248,000 will harm an economy that is dependent on immigration.

The UK may not have left the EU yet but Europeans are already leaving it. New figures from the ONS show that 117,000 EU citizens emigrated in 2016 (up 31,000 from 2015) - the highest level for six years. The exodus was most marked among eastern Europeans, with a fall in immigration from the EU8 countries to 48,000 (down 25,000) and a rise in emigration to 43,000 (up 16,000).

As a result, net migration has fallen to 248,000 (down 84,000), the lowest level since 2014. That's still nearly more than double the Conservatives' target of "tens of thousands a year" (reaffirmed in their election manifesto) but the trend is unmistakable. The number of international students, who Theresa May has refused to exclude from the target (despite cabinet pleas), fell by 32,000 to 136,000. And all this before the government has imposed new controls on free movement.

The causes of the UK's unattractiveness are not hard to discern. The pound’s depreciation (which makes British wages less competitive), the spectre of Brexit (May has refused to guarantee EU citizens the right to remain) and a rise in hate crimes and xenophobia are likely to be the main deterrents. Ministers may publicly welcome the figures but many privately acknowledge that they come at a price. The OBR recently forecast that lower migration would cost £6bn a year by 2020-21. As well as reflecting weaker growth, reduced immigration is likely to reinforce it. Migrants pay far more in tax than they claim in benefits, with a net contribution of £7bn a year. An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent.

Brexit has in fact forced ministers to increasingly acknowledge an uncomfortable truth: Britain needs immigrants. Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. Brexit secretary David Davis, for instance, recently conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall after the UK leaves the EU. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (a level not seen since 1997), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

Alongside the new immigration figures, GDP growth in the first quarter of 2017 was revised down to 0.2 per cent - the weakest performance since Q4 2012. In recent history, there has only been one reliable means of reducing net migration: a recession. Newcomers from the EU halved after the 2008 crash. Should the UK suffer the downturn that historic trends predict, it will need immigrants more than ever. Both the government and voters may only miss migrants when they're gone.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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