This is a sometimes 'cheesey' blog about British and American politics and anything else which tickles my fancy!
Monday, 6 July 2009
Have the Tories changed on gay rights?
The rainbow flags were flying in Soho this weekend as London celebrated Gay Pride.
Not wanting to miss an opportunity, Westminster's politicians have been falling over themselves to prove their gay credentials.
Last week, David Cameron said "sorry" for Section 28, the law which banned the "promotion" of homosexuality in schools. Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Stonewall, described the apology as "historic".
In a reversal of historic trends, it appears that the Conservatives have certainly made it possible once again for gay men and women to vote for them.
A poll conducted by Jake, the professional gay networking organisation, found that out of over 600 gay men and women, 38% said they would vote Conservative if an election was held tomorrow, while only 20% would vote Labour - figures which mirror the national polling preferences too.
In constituencies in London, the key battleground for next year's election, the 'pink vote' could be decisive.
The National Portrait Gallery also played host last week to a debate between senior gay political figures about which party could offer the gay vote more.
Ben Bradshaw MP (the new Secretary of State for Culture), Chris Bryant MP (Foreign Officer Minister), Nick Herbert MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Defra), Stephen Williams MP (Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Universities) and Nick Boles (PPC for Grantham) were all in attendance.
There was even a brief appearance from Sarah Brown, the Prime Minister's wife. She also led the Pride parade as it worked its way through London's streets on Saturday.
However, both Ben Bradshaw and Chris Bryant used the occasion at the Gallery to attack their Tory colleagues, claiming that many Conservative MPs and PPCs were still prejudiced.
I think it is right for Labour to remind people of the great work it has done extending gay rights - one of the really successful achievements of the Blair years. But I am not sure it is fair any more to criticise the Tories on this. In any organisation, there is bound to be some element of prejudice. After all, it is made up of humans. But the Tory leadership, at the very least, has changed on this. And shouldn't social democrats in particular, accept that people can make mistakes and forgive them for it?
At the National Gallery, the most eloquent and articulate speaker, turned out to be Nick Herbert, the Shadow Secretary of State for the Environmment.
In his speech, he gave credit to the Labour Government for establishing the legal framework for gay equality and was honest about previous Conservative failings in this area. But he quoted David Cameron's first conference speech when the new leader stated that marriage between two men was equally valued as marriage between a man and a woman, and reminded the audience that it was important to remain vigilant in the future.
This is not the Tory voice of Norman Tebbit or John Hannam, the MP Ben Bradshaw originally defeated in Exeter. Herbert represents a new generation of Tories who recognise the importance of gay rights legislation. They are not going to roll back the clock now. And I think Labour has to accept this. It also has to accept that there are many people who will now begin to look at the Tories in a different light and, as the poll suggests, are willing to vote for them.
It would be better for Labour to fight the Tories on what we can offer for the future, like what are we going to do about homophobic bullying in schools, rather than hark back to the fights of yesterday.
It is often said that gay men and women are the first to start a new trend and are always just one step ahead of the curve.
Labour strategists may be conceeding that it would be ironic indeed, if, after all the progress Labour has made over the last ten years, it is the Conservatives who turn out to be the biggest beneficiaries of the pink vote at the next election.