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19 July 2007

Britain and the big So What?

Journalist and ex-Tory MP Matthew Parris on how he likes Britain better today than he did 20 years a

By Matthew Parris

We gays have come further than in our wildest dreams we once thought possible. We are apt now to tell ourselves this is all because of the courage and persistence of those who campaigned. Well, up to a point. A tireless campaign has mattered hugely. But after the self-congratulation, after the clenched fists and victory salutes, and after the occasional lapse into teary self-pity because of the struggle it’s all been, there should be space for a quiet “thank you”, not to ourselves, but to the Britain where this has happened.

We always had a direct interest in the outcome. Many fellow citizens did not. The great majority of MPs whose votes brought reform have not been gay. Some of the votes and voices raised most bitterly against us have been from people who were. It was not, finally, the gay community that settled this question, but the British population and their representatives. They turned up trumps. I admit to surprise at the response. I like Britain better than I did 20 years ago for its tolerance towards people like me. I like Britain better for the big So What? that has tipped the argument our way. “None of my business” – that most British of remarks – has always been our best ally; and for their refusal to be provoked or even bothered by what history will judge an astonishing leap, I think a little gratitude to the British people themselves is in order.

Matthew Parris was Conservative MP for West Derbyshire (1979-86)

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