The 50 most powerful gay, lesbian and bisexual people in British politics

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

This year’s list could only be headed by one person.

The return of Peter Mandelson to frontline British politics was predicted by no-one.

Indeed, just a few months before he took his seat in the Lords he was publicly feuding with the Prime Minister over whether or not he would be staying in Brussels as Britain’s European Commissioner.

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is one of 50 lesbian, gay and bisexual people who influence our politics.

The list is meant to demonstrate that LGBT people are a force in every major political party. The lack of any trans people on the list indicates how far that community still has to travel.

Peter Mandelson’s prodigal son moment marked the return of gay people to the Cabinet for the first time since he left in 2001, while the Tory reshuffle has seen two gay men retain their places at David Cameron’s top table. The Lib Dems also have two out men in their shadow frontbench team.

There continues to be just one out woman in Parliament.

We consulted widely on this year’s list and asked journalists, activists and politicians for their nominations. We had some interesting responses, including one vociferous supporter of John Maynard Keynes.

He has the unfortunate disadvantage of being dead, but we have to agree it has been a good year for the economist, who had a string of gay lovers in his youth.

There were others mentioned for honorary inclusion, people who have worked hard for gay rights but had the misfortune be born straight.

Among them was Maria Eagle, the justice minister. When a Tory peer succeeded in altering the new hate crimes law to give an ‘opt-out’ to religious homophobes, she had to allow it to stand, as part of the legislation was time-sensitive.

This year she has returned to the issue, and intends to remove the opt-out, as she had promised.

Finally, there were long discussions about whether or not to include lobbyists on the list. There are several influential gay people who work in this field, but we decided not to include them. Let us know what you think.

The Top 50 list is by no means definitive, and there are many figures who could have been included but opt to conceal their sexuality.

It is, we hope, a useful demonstration that in being gay, lesbian, trans or bisexual is no bar to political office.

For those who ask why such a demonstration is needed in 2009, we point to a Stonewall survey of more than 1,600 gay, lesbian and bisexual people published last year.

It found that respondents thought they would get worse treatment on the grounds of their sexuality in employment, political representation, housing, health, education, the police and the criminal justice system.

89% of those polled think they would face barriers from the Conservative party if they wanted to be selected to run for Parliament.

61% said the same about Labour and 47% about the Liberal Democrats.

Of those respondents who are party supporters, 71% of Conservatives, 46% of Labour and 28% of Lib Dems thought they would face barriers if they wanted to stand for Parliament.

Many people on this list hate being described as a gay or lesbian politician, but unfortunately we do not yet live in a society where sexual orientation is an irrelevance.

1. Peter Mandelson, Baron Mandelson of Foy and Hartlepool, Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

No-one doubts he is one of the most talented politicians of his generation, but few would have predicted he would end his fourteen year feud with Gordon Brown, accept a seat in the Lords and become Deputy Prime Minister in all but name.

Then again, Peter Mandelson has a capacity to surprise and an allure that journalists, even the ones that hate him, find irresistible.

His return has also seen the return of homophobia to the national press. “Mandy” has barely been out of the papers since he joined the Cabinet in October, and his Brazilian partner is a source of endless fascination to the Daily Mail.

2. Nick Brown, Chief Whip

One of the Prime Minister’s closest allies, Nick Brown was promoted to Chief Whip in the October reshuffle. He is well suited to the job.

After a short Cabinet career under Tony Blair, during which he was outed by The Sun, he spent years on the backbenches as Gordon’s cheerleader cum enforcer.

He attends Cabinet but does not sit as a full member. The atmosphere on the Labour benches has become more aggressive since he took charge, as the party enters the difficult period leading up to a fourth election. Rebels beware.

3. Nick Herbert, Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Nick Herbert told the Stonewall fringe meeting at Tory party conference last year that he was initially uncomfortable being described as a “gay MP” but realised it is important to serve as a role model for others.

His career so far is a blueprint for any aspiring politician. Elected in 2005, he was elevated to the frontbench as Shadow Justice Secretary two years later.

The phrase ‘rising star’ is overused, but in Nick Herbert’s case it is the most apt description. He entered into a civil partnership with Jason Eades at the end of last year, becoming the second Tory MP to do so.

4. Angela Eagle, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury

When Angela Eagle came out publicly in 1997, it was assumed others might follow. They didn’t, and twelve years later she remains the only out lesbian in the House of Commons or the Lords.

Ms Eagle has been at the centre of the biggest crisis to befall the Treasury since Labour took office, appearing on television to defend the government’s record during the banking crisis and the credit crunch. Her identical twin sister Maria is a minister at the Justice department.

A member of the Labour party National Executive Council, she has wide influence and power within the party. She entered into a civil partnership with long-time girlfriend Maria Exall earlier this year.

5. Evan Davis, Presenter, Today programme, BBC Radio 4

The former economics correspondent has proved an adept political interviewer in his new role on the Today programme.

He became well-known for presenting Dragon’s Den but any thought that he might be the “soft” interviewer on Today have been dismissed and his background in economics is particularly useful in these credit crunch times.

There is a wilder side to Mr Davis; rumour has it his nickname at the BBC is ‘tinsel tits.’

6. Ben Bradshaw, Minister of State for Health Services

Last year we said Ben Bradshaw was a good minister, a safe pair of hands yet suffers from a low profile. All that remains the case, though it could be argued that keeping the NHS out of the news is in itself an achievement.

A former journalist, Mr Bradshaw has been an MP since 1997 and has been Minister for Nature Conservation and Fisheries, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons and a junior Foreign Office minister.

In 2006 he became the first MP to have a civil partnership ceremony.

7. Nick Boles. Conservative parliamentary candidate for Grantham and Stamford

As part of David Cameron’s inner circle, Nick Boles has considerable influence within Conservative Central Office. His detractors claim he lost influence when he left to run Boris Johnson’s successful campaign for Mayor of London, but other close to the Tory leader insist he is still one of the handful of people Cameron instinctively turns to for advice.

He failed to win Hove in 2005, but is expected to be elected for Grantham and Stamford at the next election. He can expect to take a leading role in a future Conservative administration.

8. Ray Collins, General Secretary of the Labour party

What does a general secretary do? Fix things. Ray Collins took over in June and has already seen the party’s finances come back from the brink, helped along by a one million pound donation from JK Rowling and a total of £5m in donations from July to September.

Labour insiders have praised his sure handling of the party during a troubled time. Shame they took so long to pick him for the job.

Peter Watt, who resigned as Labour’s general secretary in the wake of the Abrahams scandal after claiming he did not know that third-party donations are illegal, beat Collins, Tony Blair’s choice, to the post in November 2005.

The role is of that of backroom fixer, and Ray Collins’ experience as assistant general secretary of the TGWU, where he steered the union into a merger creating one of the largest trade unions in the country, has come in handy in his dealings with Labour’s biggest financial donors.

9. Chris Bryant, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Finally, a ministerial role for Chris Bryant after eleven years on the backbenches. Earlier this year he spoke publicly for the first time about his ordeal at the hands of the tabloids in 2003 when photos from his Gaydar profile were published.

That is all now firmly in the past, and Mr Bryant has proved an effective Deputy Leader, even winning rare praise from Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail, a man hated by MPs for his piquant parliamentary sketches.

“To behold Mr Bryant in action is to be struck by the question: why didn’t the idiots promote him ten years ago? He is fluent, rigorous, bombastic, clever and uses engagingly rare words,” he said of his first appearance at the despatch box.

10. Margot James, Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Stourbridge

Although not yet an MP, Margot James wields considerable influence in her role as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative party for Women, a position she has held since 2005.

Despite being the only prominent lesbian in the Tory party, she is impatient with the description and stresses her impressive background in business and work as a local councillor.

In 1986 co-founded her own company, Shire Health, a PR and medical education business. It was voted ‘Consultancy of the Year’ three times. She later sold it to the WPP Group.

She lives with her partner, BBC TV presenter Jay Hunt.

11. Kirsty McNeill, Political Adviser, No10 Downing St

Gordon Brown’s speech to party conference last year impressed many who had doubts about his leadership, and those close to the PM confirm that Kirsty McNeill was responsible for much of it.

She accompanied him to Washington this week, and had a hand in Mr Brown’s address to the US Congress. Ms McNeill was the driving force behind the first-ever Downing St reception for the LGBT community.

She has parliamentary ambitions and is seen as one of the best and brightest of the new new Labour generation.

12. Alan Duncan, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

It has been a mixed year for the first Tory MP to come out voluntarily. He entered into a civil partnership in July and still has a loyal following among gay Conservatives, but his demotion in January’s reshuffle from Shadow Business Secretary to Shadow Leader of the House was undoubtedly a blow.

Still, he is making the best of it, and his weekly jousts with Harriet Harman at Business Questions are already one of the highlights of the parliamentary week.

13. Sir Simon Milton, Deputy Mayor of London for Policy and Planning

Adviser to the Mayor on planning, housing and sustainable development, Sir Simon was previously Leader of Westminster City Council.

Described as the powerhouse of City Hall, Sir Simon Milton is Boris Johnson’s political animal, a man well-versed in the vagaries of local government, something his boss lacks.

Knighted in the 2006 New Year’s Honours List, the following year he publicly declared his sexuality and married his long-term partner Councillor Robert Davis at The Ritz hotel.

14. Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive, Stonewall

When it was announced that Ben Summerskill is to be awarded an OBE for services to equality, it was a clear sign that the head of Britain’s most powerful gay equality organisation is well-regarded by the establishment.

He has led Stonewall since 2003 and achieved more in that time than most lobby groups would dare dream of. He was appointed as a Equality and Human Rights Commissioner last year and rumours persist that if and when he does leave Stonewall a seat in the Lords awaits him.

15. Greg Barker, Shadow Minister for Climate Change

Regarded as one of the nicest MPs in the Commons, Greg Barker was tipped for Shadow Cabinet in his close friend David Cameron’s January reshuffle.

Instead he retained his climate change brief. As the economy worsens, the Tory party appears to have sidelined green issues. It will be Greg Barker’s job to keep the environment on the agenda.

16. Steven Purcell, Leader of Glasgow Council

Tipped as a future leader of Scottish Labour, Steven Purcell is a prime example of a politician who happens to be gay, rather than a gay politician.

He is open about his sexuality but doesn’t talk about it, and aged just 35 he controls a budget of £2.4 billion and 36,000 staff.

The most powerful gay man in Scottish politics, he helped bring the Commonwealth Games to Glasgow in 2014.

17. Dan Ritterband, Director of Marketing for London

A key Boris aide, Dan Ritterband now sits as the Mayor’s Representative on the Visit London Board.

He previously worked in Michael Howard’s private office and was a member of the Cameron leadership campaign team.

18. Spencer Livermore, Head of Strategy and Planning, Blue Rubicon

He topped the list last year, but Spencer Livermore’s departure from Downing St for the world of public relations and his stated intention to work outside politics for at least five years inevitably mean he has dropped down the list.

Friends insist he is a political animal at heart and confirm that he is still in “regular” contact with the Prime Minister.

19. Iain Dale, Blogger

One of the most influential bloggers in Britain, this former Tory candidate launched Total Politics magazine last year, a glossy title aimed at elected representatives and other politics junkies.

While he is not without his enemies, Iain Dale has carved a huge media profile for himself and his blog, a clear signal of the increasing power of the internet on both politics and journalism.

20. Michael Cashman, MEP for the West Midlands

The perma-tanned former actor was fighting for gay rights 20 years ago. A rebel turned establishment figure, Michael Cashman is still advocating equality, albeit in the corridors of power at the European Parliament.

As a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee he is a force to be reckoned with within the party as well.

21. Simon Hughes, Lib Dem Spokesman on Energy and Climate Change

The Grand Old Man of the Liberal Democrats has been in Parliament since 1983 – the party did not even exist back then. Simon Hughes stood down as party President last year, but he remains a powerful figure among the grassroots and the parliamentary party.

Colleagues report that he has mellowed in recent years, but he remains one of the party’s most effective communicators.

22. Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner

By his own account he started fighting injustice at the age of 15, and he hasn’t stopped. Peter Tatchell is derided by some gays as a relic of the 1970s, while others idolise him for his bravery and awkward refusal to “fit in.”

Love him or loathe him, he is undoubtedly the most famous gay campaigner in the country and will be standing as a Green party candidate at the next election.

23. Patrick Harvie MSP, leader of Scottish Green Party

The minority SNP government at Holyrood has led to an increased profile for the Green party north of the border, and Patrick Harvie has high hopes he can strengthen their position in Scottish politics.

The MSP for Glasgow is the first LGBT party leader in Britain – he was elected unopposed as co-convenor of the Scottish Greens in November.

24. Stephen Williams, Lib Dem Spokesman on Innovation, Universities and Skills

Well-regarded by party leader Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem’s only openly gay MP has built a solid reputation on the frontbench. Stephen Williams has demonstrated strong support for campaigns to end homophobic bullying in schools, while working assiduously to hold on to his Bristol seat at the next election.

25. Lord Alli, Labour Peer

Waheed Alli left school at 16, had a highly successful career in magazine publishing and then in investment banking, before joining forces with his partner Charlie Parsons to produce legendary TV shows such as The Word.

Made a life peer at the age of 34, he is one of three only openly gay people in the House and wields considerable influence in government.

26. Matthew Parris, Journalist

A former aide to Margaret Thatcher and a Tory MP from 1979 to 1986, Matthew Parris is now best-known as the man who outed Peter Mandelson and for his masterful comment pieces in The Times.

In 2006 he entered into a civil partnership with his boyfriend of many years, Guardian journalist John Glover.

27. Joe FitzPatrick, SNP MSP

The Scots Nats only out gay MSP, Joe FitzPatrick has kept a relatively low profile.

He supported a gay Syrian is claiming asylum in the UK on the grounds of his sexual orientation last year and is a member of the SNP’s National Executive Committee.

28. Katie Hanson and LGBT Labour

A local councillor, Katie Hanson and her colleagues at LGBT Labour have serious influence with the government and have pushed forward the equality agenda with persistence and determination.

They speak out within the party on everything from gay asylum seekers to lesbian access to fertility and it is clear that they are often listened to by senior figures in Labour.

29. Jean Eaglesham, Journalist

The Financial Times chief political correspondent, Jean Eaglesham did a star turn at Tory party conference last year, chairing the Stonewall hustings and probing top Conservatives about how committed they really are to gay equality. She is highly-rated by her colleagues – in January she was elected chairman of the Lobby.

30. Janet Paraskeva, head of the Olympic Lottery Distributor and First Civil Service Commissioner

A Welsh-Greek-Cypriot, Janet Paraskeva is a former teacher and schools inspector.

She is clearly seen as a safe pairs of hands – as well as her Olympic duties she serves as chair of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission and on the board of the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

As First Civil Service Commissioner she ensures the service is effective and impartial and that appointments are made on merit.

31. Andrew Pierce, Journalist

Purveyor of the finest Royal gossip since Backstairs Billy, Andrew Pierce is deputy editor of The Daily Telegraph, a commentator and a broadcaster, with his own Sunday afternoon show on LBC.

32. Stephen Twigg, Labour parliamentary candidate for Liverpool West Derby

The man who drove Michael Portillo out of Parliament in 1997 lost the Enfield Southgate seat in 2001, but Stephen Twigg is set to return to the House at the next election. He is hugely popular within the party and will play a key role in Labour’s fortunes in the next parliament.

33. Wes Streeting, National President of the National Union of Students

Don’t let his boyish looks deceive you. Wes Streeting is a tough fighter, renowned for his ability to beat his opponents into submission using only the force of his argument. While coy about his political ambitions, he is already spoken of as a future Cabinet minister.

34. Richard Barnes, Deputy Mayor of London

The official, statutory deputy to Boris Johnson, Richard Barnes is a veteran London politician and a rare example of a Tory who was out and gay in the Thatcher years. A partner of Richard’s died of AIDS several years ago and he has been active in HIV charities since then.

35. James Knox, gay rights activist

One of Northern Ireland’s most vocal advocates for gay rights, James Knox co-chairs the Coalition on Sexual Orientation (COSO). Last year he was reappointed to the province’s Equality Commission.

36. Johann Hari, Journalist

One of The Independent’s most-read commentators, Johann Hari writes about a wide range of issues including human rights and environmental issues. Well-known for his feuds with famous names such as Nick Cohen and George Galloway, his regular appearances on Newsnight Review are steadily building his public profile.

37. Adam Price, Plaid Cymru MP

Making up 50% of the Plaid parliamentary party, Adam Price continues to make an impression on Westminster. He tried to impeach Tony Blair over the Iraq War and got kicked out of the chamber for accusing the then-PM of misleading the House. He has won numerous awards for his campaigning work and his excellent website.

38. Margaret Smith, Lib Dem MSP

Possibly the only MSP offered treatment by a footballer, Margaret Smith outed herself in 2003 ahead of a Sunday tabloid story.

A mother of two children from a previous marriage, she entered into a civil partnership with her partner Suzanne Main in 2006.

Just before the ceremony Rangers and Trinidad and Tobago player Marvin Andrews said his church could “cure” her of lesbianism.

39. Brian Coleman, Chair of the London Fire and Emergency Authority

The cab bills, the “bling bling” chain of office, the outrageous claims about former PM Ted Heath – Brian Coleman is, as the saying goes, a “colourful” character.

In June last year he accepted an honorary degree from Middlesex University. They overlooked the fact he had branded the institution “crap” in 2004.

40. Brian Paddick, former candidate for Mayor of London

From Mayoral hustings to ITV’s celeb jungle, 2008 was a year of contrasts for Brian Paddick. The former senior police officer came third in the election for Mayor of London, and still retains political ambitions.

Mr Paddick married his boyfriend in Norway in January.

41. David Borrow, Labour MP

David Borrow came out in 1998 during the age of consent debate. A former valuations tribunal clerk, he entered into a civil partnership in 2006.

42. Clive Betts, Labour MP

This football-mad MP was outed by The Sun in 2003.

As Chair of the Parliamentary Football Club has tabled motions about homophobia in the game and lent his support to last year’s Gay and Lesbian Football Association World Championship in London.

43. Gordon Marsden, Labour MP

A strong advocate for the tradition British seaside town, Gordon Marsden came out in 1998 ahead of a debate on the age of consent. A former Open University tutor and editor of History Today magazine, he represents Blackpool South.

44. Seb Dance, special adviser to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

It has been another critical year keeping the peace in Northern Ireland, and Seb Dance has been at the heart of decisions about policing and justice and a proposed truth and reconciliation commission. He lives in London with his boyfriend Spencer Livermore.

45. Maria Exall, Trade Unionist

A BT engineer and member of the the national executive committee of the Communication Workers Union, Maria Exall entered into a partnership with Treasury minister Angela Eagle last year. Harriet Harman announced their nuptials in the highly-romantic setting of the TUC conference.

46. Rodney Berman, Leader of Cardiff Council

Regarded as the most influential gay Liberal Democrat in local government, Rodney Berman runs Wales’ biggest city.

Born and educated in Glasgow, he unsuccessfully ran for Parliament in 1997 and 2001. Entered into a civil partnership at the city’s Mansion House in 2006 with ITV Wales political correspondent Nick Speed.

47. Steve Radford, former leader of the Liberal party

The old Liberal party lives, in Liverpool at least. Steve Radford, who led the party until earlier this year, is one of three Liberal councillors, and he has been a strong advocate of the creation of a gay village, a Pride event for Liverpool and an end to homophobia.

48. Darren Johnson, Green Member of the London Assembly

Twice a candidate for Mayor of London, Darren Johnson is among the most influential gay members of the Green party. He lives in Brockley with his long-term partner and fellow Lewisham councillor Dean Walton.

49. Alan Wardle, Programme Director Public Affairs Local Government Association

During his four years as Stonewall’s public affairs guru, Alan Wardle racked up an impressive number of victories for gay equality. His networking and lobbying skills are hard to beat, and in the past year he has put them to good use promoting the LGA’s agenda.

50. Mike Freer, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Finchley & Golders Green

At the next election it is likely a gay Tory will take back from Labour the constituency represented by Margaret Thatcher for 33 years. The leader of Barnet council and a board member of the London Development Agency, Mike Freer is a poster boy for the new Cameron Conservatives.