Comment: Why gays should be embracing David Cameron

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With the launch of the ‘new’ Tory party’s mini-manifesto, Tony Grew explains why the gay community should be embracing the aspirations of David Cameron.

Stung by constant criticism that he is all sound bite and no substance, David Cameron today launched a ‘mini manifesto.’

The purpose of the document is to outline the aims and values of the Conservative Party.

To anyone with a political memory long enough to remember 1979, the idea of gay and lesbian people feeling positively towards the Tories might seem naive at best.

Labour are always keen to remind us of the bad old days of Section 28, and remind the gays that it was a Labour government that delivered an equal age of consent, civil partnerships and the abolition of the most famous section of a local government act in the history of Parliament.

For all of those achievements, they are to be congratulated. With New Labour came a new national mood, somehow more tolerant and understanding than the previous 18 years, years that were so miserable for so many.

Faced with a real electoral threat for the first time in a decade, Labour are rattled. They feel that people do not appreciate their achievements. They think the electorate have forgotten the bad old days.

The electorate have forgotten – and that is not such a terrible thing. In a country where gay people are more free then they have ever been, it can be hard to remind ourselves of what the Tories used to be like.

There can be no doubt that in the eight months that Cameron has led the Conservatives, he has taken the party by the scruff of the neck. The language and attitude is unrecognisable from the days of Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Michael Howard.

Labour are correct in their assertion that Cameron is relying heavily on image. They should know – since Blair was elected leader in 1994, he has devoted much energy to promoting his party and his government as modern, forward thinking and ‘in touch’ with modern Britain.

But the shine has worn off the golden boy. Worse still, a fully qualified PR practitioner now stands opposite him. The language that David Cameron uses may be all spin, but that is no reason why the gay community should not listen to what he is trying to tell us.

For the first time in its history, the Tory party has out gay MPs. The election of Nick Herbert to Arundel and South Downs in 2005 was a watershed moment. It marked a coming of age for the ‘new’ Conservatives. Along with the election of the first black Tory MP, Adam Afriyie, in Windsor, finally the party had tangible symbols of its desire to reflect modern Britain.

It is interesting to look again at the constituencies Herbert and Afriyie won. Hampshire and Berkshire are hardly politically correct, left-wing or radical areas of the country. The Tories took these candidates into their heartland, put them before some of the most ‘small c’ conservatives in the country and won.

Like many historic organisations, that change has taken time. The change in mood is in large part due to the tenacity of gay Tory activists who from the mid-90s onwards found their own voice inside the Party.

Capitalising on the atmosphere created by ten years of Tony, the Conservatives feel more comfortable using words like compassion, positive action, partnerships.

That is in part a tribute to the fact that Blair has transformed the political landscape, in exactly the way Thatcher did.

And like Blair, Cameron is taking advantage of that new political landscape to push forward his vision for the future.

Commentators who say that the vast bulk of the Tory party are still blue-rinse biddies who hate the gays and black people betray their ignorance of the realities of where power really lies within political parties.

They are also wrong about the party – the members live in Blair’s Britain. They may be old, but they are willing and able to pick gay candidates, black candidates. They were doing it before David Cameron even became leader.

For LGBT people, these are exciting political times. The stated aim of making the Tories more reflective of modern Britain means they actively want gay and lesbian candidates.

And Adam Rickitt – no man can spend that much time with his top off and not be counted as an honourary gay.

The Labour party have never actively sought gay candidates to run for them. They have done so for women, with the controversial short lists, and with ethnic minority candidates.

Labour somewhat cynically place black and Asian candidates in constituencies with large ethic populations. The party have a mixed record when it comes to picking gay candidates. It was the bravery of Chris Smith outing himself that led to more acceptance for gay people among Labour activists.

The trade union movement, for those of us with long memories, were virulently homophobic for much of their history. Many trade unionists were hostile towards women and immigrants in the workplace too.

David Cameron’s A-list has come in for lots of criticism, but those critics forget that it is for local associations to decide who will represent them. The A-list is indicative of the sort of people the ‘new’ Tories want to be in parliament, but there will be no imposed candidates as there are with Labour.

No association will be TOLD to pick a gay candidate, or a black candidate, or Adam Rickitt. The A-list allows people who may not have been considered to be considered. As we have seen in 2005, constituency parties have picked gay candidates – because they were the best.

Labour constantly remind us of how they have changed the political landscape for minority groups. For that we thank them. But they need to wake up to the reality they have created.

David Cameron is reaching out to gay and lesbian people, not in a tokenist ‘we must have some gays’ type of way, but instead making it clear that they are welcome in his party. Welcome to fight it out equally with everyone else, to prove they are the best candidates.

To me that is the sort of equality we should all want in our new political reality.