Monday, 25 April 2011

Crossroads: Gay rights in the UK

Last week, the Sunday Times reported that if a general election was called right now, a majority of gay men would vote Conservative. The story piqued enough interest to make it around Twitter and the gay press. My natural instinct was to raise a slightly arch eyebrow and ask to see the data that back it up, but then realised that the article was prompting the wrong discussion.

Before I get to that, I should reflect upon the original story. Unsurprisingly, the data becomes unreliable even on the most superficial examination. The story stemmed from 1,100 gay men responding to a poll on a social networking site called Jake. This site is specifically targeted at LGBT career professionals. It is extremely business-orientated, going as far to sell itself as an ideal platform for corporations to raise their profile and ability to influence in the marketplace. I’m not arguing that this is problematic. It is heartening to see figures within the business world striving to capacity-build success amongst LGBT individuals within their ranks. That said, it isn’t a stretch to argue that this particular niche might be a tad more sympathetic to the Conservatives than your average poll of gay men.

For those with longer memories, the site is also owned and run by Ivan Massow, a gay entrepreneur who enjoys a rather interesting past with the Conservative Party. His most notable claims to fame are that he used to be a flatmate of Michael Gove, the current Education Secretary and also famously acted as Margaret Thatcher’s escort to the 1999 Conservative Party conference! He remains, after a brief flirtation with Labour, an active member of the Conservatives.

Finally, and probably most significantly, the vote actually showed that in an election called now, 36% of the respondents would vote Conservative, 34% would vote Labour and 22% would vote Liberal Democrat. Hardly the ringing endorsement it first appears. I’ll say nothing about the fact that the Greens don’t even appear in the poll!

But the discussion we should be having isn’t which political party is most popular with gay men. Debating the merits of each party platform towards gay equality can only get us so far. Instead, I believe those of us campaigning for LGBT rights within political parties should acknowledge that we stand at a crossroads. In the last decade, the Labour Government legislated for equality and removed the vast majority of discriminatory laws on the statute books. These successes have taken the wind out of the sails of political parties’ courting of the gay vote, because by and large, they are now all singing largely from the same hymn sheet in tackling the remaining discriminatory laws and practices.

So here is the real debate. How should the political agenda now evolve between the LGBT community and political parties? What should the Green Party be doing? That is a discussion for another day...

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