I get very frustrated when the likes of Ben Bradshaw try to play politics with gay issues and try to make out as if all Tories are latent homophobes. I gather tonight Little Ben was at it again after an interview David Cameron gave to Gay Times and which was picked up by Channel 4 News.
I've now seen the video footage, and I think the inherent problem with the interview was that Cameron didn't know if he was giving a print interview or a film interview. That was why in the end he asked to start again, and make it one or the other. Frankly, he should never have been put in that position.
But let's address the substance. He was asked by the interviewer, Martin Popplewell about a vote in the European Parliament on a Lithuanian law which is apparently homophobic. Cameron clearly hadn't got a clue about the vote, and I doubt whether many people reading this website - or indeed any gay website - would have heard of it either. He was asked why Tory MEPs abstained in the vote rather than be whipped to vote in favour. It was a classic trick question. Is a party leader really supposed to know the ins and outs of every single vote in the European Parliament? It turns out that there is a convention that Conservative MEPs do not vote on issues relating to the internal affairs of other member states.
But even if there weren't any such convention, isn't it trying to have it both ways when you criticise parties for imposing too many whipped votes, and then criticise them when they don't whip a vote of your choosing.
Popplewell then tried another tack, and asked him about the vote in the House of Lords today on allowing civil partnership ceremonies to take place on Quaker premises. Cameron made the point that one of the signatories to Lord Alli's amendments was a Tory peer, Baroness Nokes. He said Tory peers had a free vote on it, but that wasn't good enough for Mr Popplewell who clearly thought there should be a three line whip. If ever there were a good example of an issue which was a clear conscience issue, I'd have thought this was one. I should say that to vote against religious premises HAVING to allow civil partnerships on their premises does not make one homophobic. Civil partnerships are just that - civil contracts. They are not religious services. If churches of any denomination which to allow civil partnerships then that is a matter for them. I would certainly welcome it, but as a libertarian I could not in all conscience vote to force churches to allow them. Does that make me a homophobe? In Ben Bradshaw's eyes, I am sure it does. But on this, as on many other issues, he does not see clearly and only looks for division rather than consensus.
Anyway as usual, up popped Ben Bradshaw to accuse Cameron of something only just short of being a homophobe...
"I think it’s extraordinary that anyone should suggest that a matter of equality and fundamental human rights should be a free vote. It hasn’t been for years in, in the House of Commons and that is a major gaffe and I think what it displays about David Cameron is that he’s talked a good talk on some of these issues, his voting record hasn’t been very good. He’s learnt a script, but when he’s actually scrutinised on it and he forgets the script, he doesn’t have the fundamental core belief to support him in his argument."
Except that his comments are complete and utter toss and don't stand up to any scrutiny at all. Why? Bradshaw's own government allowed a free vote in the Lords on the civil partnerships/church vote AND asked Lord Alli to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Alli’s amendment to the Equality Bill was Amendment 53, debated in the House of Lords on 2 March. It was co-sponsored by Baroness Nokes (Con) and Dame Butler Sloss (Crossbench). The amendment was designed to allow religious premises to be used for the celebration of civil partnerships.
Baroness Royall, speaking for the Government allowed a free vote on this, stating ‘on this basis, as noble Lords will know, we have a free vote on this amendment’ (House of Lords Hansard, HL Deb, 2 March 2010, c1439). More than that – she urged Lord Alli to withdraw the amendment and said it raised a number of problems.
"I understand what my noble friend and the noble Baronesses are seeking to achieve. Like many noble Lords, I have great sympathy with their aims and fully recognise that civil partnerships are about commitment and loving relationships. However, while my heart supports the intentions of my noble friend, my head knows that the amendment raises a number of problems. I fear that it would not work in practice. It breaks the important link that we have always maintained between civil partnership and civil marriage. It blurs the line between what is a civil partnership and something that has elements of a religious partnership. It introduces ambiguity into the role of registrars and it is unclear what, if any, religious language would be able to be used during any civil partnership ceremony conducted in religious premises’ (HL Deb, 2 March 2010, c1437). I have today raised our concerns about how this would work in practice. I have made it clear that we are committed to taking the time to consider any changes carefully, and I therefore urge my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.”
And yet the media - especially many in the gay media - lap up what Ben Bradshaw says and print it without question. One day, just one day, I hope that even Ben Bradshaw might come to acknowledge what the rest of us know - that David Cameron has done wonders to change the Conservative Party's attitudes and beliefs on these issues in a very short time. After the next election there will be around 20-25 gay Tory MPs, who are unafraid to be described as such. Anyone who believes that the Tory Party will ever go back to the days of Section 28 just needs to look at the ConservativeHome survey of PPCs. They may be economic Thatcherites, but they are very socially liberal. Bradshaw should rejoice in that fact. But he's too small minded to do so.
What a shame. Instead of throwing petty insults at a politician who is a friend of the gay rights agenda, why doesn't he spend his time dealing with a party of real homophobes, the BNP.