The Tories are trying. Desperate to show they are a changed party as well as the party of change, they are seeking to set out a series of ‘contracts’ on a range of issues. These are essentially the manifesto re-packaged and re-sold in order to get some press attention among targeted audiences. Thus we learned today via Pink News that the Tories had launched an equality ‘manifesto’. On reading the news, I went looking for it – Labour and the Lib Dems published their LGBT manifesto’s some weeks ago. I couldn’t find it on their site but after sending out a plea on Twitter I was pointed in the right direction by @gigoslurp (well worth a follow).
You can read the document in full here. The Tories have lumped all equality issues together so LGBT forms one bit of a wider document encompassing disability and gender with the central message seeming to be “it’s alright, we’re not going to hurt you” or as they phrase it: ‘make no mistake: the Conservative Party has changed. We have updated our policies, and our candidates better reflect modern Britain’.
Two pages of the twenty six document are devoted to ‘LGBT Issues’. The intro page from Teresa May is a page and a half. The LGBT section begins by setting out that ‘there are three openly gay members of the Conservative front bench (Nick Herbert – the Shadow DEFRA Secretary, Alan Duncan – the Shadow Prisons Minister, and Greg Barker – the Shadow Climate Change Minister). In addition, there are a number of openly gay Conservative Party parliamentary candidates in winnable seats, including Nick Boles in Grantham and Stamford and Margot James in Stourbridge’.
Strangely, no mention of the Shadow Home Secretary’s comments on gay rights and other Tory candidates – most recently Phillipa Stroud and her attempts to ‘cure’ homosexuals through faith. Cameron has still to comment on this most recent Tory revelation – and detractors will inevitably interpret silence as quiet support at worst and weakness at best.
Pink News goes with the slant that the Tories are promising to “consider” gay marriage. That’s not the whole story and is actually miss-leading in isolation.
Let me explain. The first area of policy discussed is civil partnerships and the the section concludes that the Conservatives will ‘consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage’. This means firstly, nothing – I consider joining a gym but I’m still an unhealthy so and so who’s not set foot inside one for two years. Secondly, if they do change the law it will be to abolish civil partnerships and not create two separate routes. This will disappoint those who would like a range of partnership routes.
Their other commitment under Civil Partnerships states : ‘our plans to end the couple penalty in the tax credits system and to introduce a new system of flexible parental leave will apply to all couples, regardless of whether they are heterosexual or same sex couples’.
Well that’s a relief. Anything else would be a breach of Convention rights contained in the Human Rights Act so essentially it’s a pledge not to break the law.
We then move on to a curious commitment on homophobic bullying. They seem to be saying that by allowing teachers to restrain pupils, they will tackle homophobic bullying. Yes, folks, a good clip around the ear will sort out those pansy hating buggers. The additional powers for schools are a slant on a long established schools policy and are a long winded way of saying they will do nothing. I thought with a pretty competent shadow schools minister like Michael Gove, they would have come up with something a little more inspiring.
On inciting homophobic hatred, the Tories state they supported the government. Good to know. No promise of doing anything else if they were elected. Also good to know.
The one seriously welcome policy is to ‘amend the law so that men with convictions for consensual gay sex would be able to apply to have those convictions omitted from their CRB certificate. This would only apply to convictions for activity that is now lawful’. It only affects a small number of people but it’s welcome nonetheless.
The policy on international campaigning is a little woolly stating: ‘we would
use our relationships with other countries to push for unequivocal support for gay rights’. If I was a Foreign minister I’d look at the new intake of MP’s and Chris Grayling in the Shadow Cabinet and laugh. ‘Mr Cameron, youz are havingz a laff, no?”
That said, I will welcome a second commitment in the policy (although in my view it is simply abiding by domestic and international human rights law): ‘we would change the rules so that gay people fleeing persecution were granted asylum. At the moment gay asylum seekers are often returned to countries with homophobic regimes and told to keep their sexuality a secret’. Quite right.
So there we go. I think the contract, coming as it does, four days before the country goes to the polls is unlikely to change a single vote. Nor does it go far enough in changing perceptions of the Tory party as an orgnaisation with a homophobic core. However, it will do much to re-assure LGBT Tories and enable the Tory party to state it has policies addressing an LGBT audience. It also means that we’re talking about something other than another Tory putting their foot in it.