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    First Published: May 2005
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.

OutUK's GAY PRE-ELECTION SOAP BOX - THE CONSERVATIVES

With the General Election looming on Thursday 5th May, OutUK's Adrian Gillan puts spokespeople for the main political parties through his gay hustings to help gauge which one merits your precious queer vote. Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and Shadow Minister for Young People Charles Hendry argues that it is now the other parties - not the Tories - who seem to live in the past.
"Nothing shows more clearly how politics has changed," urges Charles Hendry, Tory Deputy Chair and Shadow Minister for Young People, "than the fact that more members of our Shadow Cabinet voted for the Civil Partnerships Bill late last year than did members of the, much larger, Labour Cabinet."
Even though that same Shadow Cabinet failed to stop over eighty of its colleagues in the Lords from trying to stop that same Bill, Hendry is adamant that his Party is - despite what rivals would have us believe - broadly moving in the right direction, away from an admittedly chequered past: "I recognise that, in the past, many have been put off voting Tory because of issues like Section 28. But today's Party has a clear commitment to equality, not least in those we employ and the candidates we select."

Indeed, TORCHE (Tory Campaign for Homosexual Equality)-backed true blue leader Michael Howard has clearly stated that a person's sexuality is irrelevant to their ability to be a good MP, and openly gay candidates have been selected - albeit after the odd public bout of boil-lancing - to fight key marginal seats in the imminent election. Moreover, less than half of Conservative MPs voted against a repeal of Section 28 in 2003; and two-thirds of Conservative MPs voted in support of the Civil Partnerships Bill when it came through the Commons last November.

Yet, despite any positive shift, the Tories still seem to regularly find themselves on the back foot on gay issues. The Party claim their opposition to adoption outside of marriage in 2002 had nothing to do with sexuality, as it related to blocking full adoption rights to any unmarried couple; they mitigate that Kent County Council's Tory leader has himself now stated that his recently toned-down "Son of Section 28" policy "was in no way a statement against homosexuality [or] against school sex education"; and they back the broad thrust behind Shadow Education Secretary Tim Collins' recent sharp criticism of LGBT History Month, arguing that the Month seemed to provoke more of a debate about whether Shakespeare was gay, rather than a debate about the contribution known LGBTs have made.

TORCHE - Tory Campaign for Homosexual Equality Website
Faced with pressure on these and other issues, Hendry seems surprisingly reluctant to retaliate to rival barbs, even conceding the that Government has made substantial achievements in recent years pushing forward LGBT rights - largely, he argues, with Conservative support and that of other parties.

"The reality," he bemoans of rivals he maintains keep carping on about the Tory past in order to divisively bolster their political present, "is that the progress made recently has been done on a cross-party basis. It doesn't serve the interests of anyone in the LGBT community either to pretend that this has not been the case or to avoid working together to build further on that consensus."

Claiming his Party has also been working constructively with the likes of Stonewall and THT, Hendry quips: "Preventing homophobic bullying, improving sexual health and providing more support for those working with the gay community are too important to people's lives to be used as political footballs."

Furthermore, Hendry believes much more should be done, particularly to tackle homophobic crimes and bullying. For the past two years he has helped organise events at Parliament exploring - amongst other things - how to make communities safer for young queers. He continues: "We've done this because we are appalled at the threats LGB people face each and every day - abuse in the street, bullying at school - that too often go unrecognised and unreported. Violent crime has almost doubled under Labour, much of it against gay men. It's also shocking that young gay men are more likely to attempt suicide than any other group - school bullies too often get away with their evil taunting."

Hendry seems unphased by some surveys which place the Tories in a poor third place amongst gay voters, behind Labour and the Lib Dems: "Opinion polls are notorious for their inaccuracy, but inevitably it does take time to change perceptions which have been in place for years. Our current changes are permanent and we now need to go a step further and take sexuality out of politics - to reach a stage where a person votes for the Party which reflects their views on health, the economy, community safety or whatever else is important to them, and where issues of sexuality become a thing of the past."

"I recognise the mistakes we have made in the past," Hendry concludes candidly on matters queer, "but this is the vision of the future we should be working towards and those of us who believe strongly in equality can work together to achieve it."

 

DON'T WASTE YOUR VOTE

OutUK is urging every gay man in the UK to use his vote on Thursday 5th June in both the General Election and the Local Council Elections. Our coverage of the General Election will continue to update you on aspects of the campaign that affect gay men.

Stonewall are also encouraging us all to vote tactically and you can find out more about their excellent website using this link:

   Stonewall's Political Campaign

Right up until election day, and after we will also continue to bring you information on the issues that affect gay men. OutUK Reporter Adrian Gillan has been talking to spokespeople for the main political parties:

        Nigel Tart - The Green Party
        Richard Porter - The Liberal Democrats
        Katie Hanson - The Labour Party

 

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