Friday 2 October 2009

No going back.

A better day today. Whatever you think about the New Labour project, there are certain ways in which it has changed the country forever, and for the better. In partnership with gay rights groups, Labour has set the bar for tolerance and diversity. No, things aren't perfect, not by a long chalk. But for a sense of how Britain has changed, you only need to listen to the 1993 version of Tom Robinson's fantastic, angry dialectic, Sing If You're Glad To Be Gay - a cross between a cheesy popsong and the best stone-cold protest rant ever - and count how many of the complaints aren't relevant anymore:

Don't try to kid us that if you're discreet
You're perfectly safe as you walk down the street...
Make sure your boyfriend's at least 21
And if you're a lesbian, don't be a mum.
Gay Lib's ridiculous, join in their laughter
'The buggers are legal now, what more are they after?'

You know someone's rolled up the map when one of the most prominent right-wing voices in the nation is out of the closet, proudly civilly partnered to another man and, today, challenging the Daily Mail over its nasty, patronisingly homophobic comments about his campaign for election in Bracknell in today's edition of the paper. I never thought I'd say this, but Iain Dale's principled stance is actually pretty damn impressive:

"I really thought that we had got away from this sort of thing and it's very sad that we haven't...If by standing up to the Daily Mail, and drawing attention to this issue, it hijacks me in Bracknell, then that will be a bitter blow to have to take, but if I sat back and just accepted this sort of thing, what sort of person would that make me? And worst of all, if I did say nothing, it would just encourage them to do it again to someone else in the future. I simply cannot do that...PCC here I come."

Even more heartening are the hundreds of comments from Tory sympathisers expressing support for Dale's brave stance. There have always been gay Tories, but time was they were expected to shut the hell up about it. They certainly couldn't run for candidacy whilst going to the Press Complaints Commission about homophobic attacks on their lifestyle. The Tories were the party of the closet, the party of don't-ask-don't-tell, the party of Section 28, the party that stood against civil partnership laws and lowering the age of consent, the party of hate and self-hate. That old guard is still bumbling evilly around Whitehall (o hai, Ian Duncan Smith), but for the moment they no longer hold the majority consensus. In fact, at the Tory conference this week, the first ever Conservative Pride rally will take place. Maggie must be spinning in her wheelchair.

I'm not saying that there are no bigots in the Tory party. I'm not saying that they have anything but an appalling record on LGBTQ rights, feminism, anti-racism or any other aspect of equality-driven policymaking. But it might, just might be the case that twelve years of a Labour administration has changed the terms of the debate forever. The world has changed. There can be no going back to the days when queer-bashers escaped prosecution and gay men and women were called perverts on the front pages of every tabloid. And if the mood continues in this way, with millions of LGBTQ people and their allies of every political tribe standing up to defend equal rights, then there will be no going back - not even under a right-wing government.


  1. Quite indeed.

    I always felt that people misinterpreted the song, especially in the way they recit the chorus. At the end he sings in a particularly angry tone 'sing if you're glad to be gay, sing if your happy that way.'

    He wasn't calling on people to get up and sing that their glad to be gay. He was critiquing the whole culture of resistance through pleasure. He saying that simply being out and happy about it isn't enough, that a long hard slog, a political struggle was needed.

  2. *warm feeling*

    I do think it has a lot to do with absolute societal wealth as well. The original taboos evolved to keep everyone "normal" so they could live in a knowable economic unit and contribute their knowable contribution to, e.g. sowing the crops etc, which all meant that there wasn't community meltdown. Now that we're not in a breadline situation any more, we simply don't need those constraints (and Tories still don't get this about marriage and single parenthood, but maybe they will).

    But yeah, all that just makes you right. It's not really going to be possible for the right to roll these cultural shifts back, even if they weren't subject to them themselves which as you say they are.

  3. It is heartening indeed. And thank you for writing this, it is very cheering. :-)

  4. While things have improved on a legislative level for LGBT rights under New Labour (and I think we should be grateful for things such as the new laws affecting legal gender recognition, I think we have not really moved that far as a society.

    As for, "There can be no going back to the days when queer-bashers escaped prosecution" it appears that we have not yet left those days: a quick search on the Guardian website found an article from March this year recording the outcry at moves to ban anti-gay hate speech.

    And there are plenty of other news stories around to remind us that, although in some of the cities being gay is relatively safe compared to former times, there's also still an awful lot of places in this country where it's not safe. Yes, we've moved on a bit, but maybe not as far as we'd like to think.

  5. "there will be no going back"

    Well, not until demographic change has advanced enough, anyway.

    “Voters in Tower Hamlets and beyond, especially from the Bangladesh community, must contact their elected representatives and members of all the major parties and demand that legislation is passed now which will allow councils to prevent these dens which degrade and exploit women from growing up in our midst as they have done in the past. We must stop this rearguard action by the Tories and Liberal Democrats,” said Councillor Miah.

    “The Tories often present themselves as the party of traditional family values, but it seems the business interests of the lap dancing bosses are more important to them than stopping the degradation and exploitation of women.”

    First they came for the lap dancers ...

  6. Yes. But every Conservative voter against section 28 is not homophobic. Incidentally, I read "Mr Hitchens said it was not possible to be a "publicly-declared homosexual campaigning for equality of status for homosexuality and be a Conservative." So, now we know. Is Dale to be targetted by the Mail group I wonder? Does he care?

  7. As far as I know, Peter Hitchens regularly states that he's an independent right-winger rather than a supporter of the Tory party so I'm not sure how relevant his views are on this.

    Generally agree with this post.

    It's one of number of policy areas where New Labour hasn't done too badly - and where reasonable policies that would once have been controversial are not likely to be subject to mainstream challenge anytime soon.

    The Tories would be crazy to go in for gay-bashing now. It would lose them votes in affluent liberal constituencies and wouldn't win them any votes from people they need votes from.

    There's still lots of people who hate gay people but they're mostly either people who would never consider voting Tory or people who also hate an awful lot of other groups of people and ideas that can be bashed more profitably.

  8. Leban -
    The lap dancing question is not even a bit the same. Lap dancing is not about freedom of sexuality or sexual expression. In its current incarnation it is nothing more than a basic example of sexual exploitation and degradation. This is not about protecting 'family values', it is about the value that is placed on female flesh before female person, the idea that men have a right to female bodies for their own pleasure, the idea that poor young woman have such little perceived economic value that it is one of their best viable options to gyrate their bodies for rich men. That men can buy and thus own women.

    It is proven that the areas around lap dancing clubs report a higher incidence of rape and sexual assault; surely showing that the power trip men go on when they buy a sexual encounter encourages them to want to exercise this power over all women. Well fuck that.

    I am not a prude - i'm all for sex and nudity. Naked women are not in themselves a threat to 'the family', that is bonkers. Buying them is. In a perfect world of sexual equality maybe the idea of sex as a buy-able commodity would not offend me so. This is not that world. This is a world where little girls are so exposed to porn culture they see glamour modeling as aspirational and hate their wretched bodies more than ever before. So some 'dancers ' say they feel empowered blah blah blah. Do i believe them? not really, but that isn't really the point. Every time a girl walks past a lap dancing club she gets the message. This is the value society places on you; better get a tit job and get you dancing shoes on.

    Cool article though. Our children will look back on section 28 as the incredible anachranism it always was. Hope you're out of the fug.

  9. Thing is though, whilst I'm sorry that Iain Dale has been subject to this crap from the Daily Male - why does it take a story about him personally for him to now kick up the storm?

    Y'know, gay men and lesbians, women, transsexuals, etc are attacked daily in this paper, and yet where has Iain Dale (or other bloggers on the supposedly 'new' modern progressive conversative right) been when it comes to openly criticising and calling out the Daily Male and Dacre on their shit??? Frankly, they haven't because its not been in their interest to do so..

  10. David Floyd - Peter Hitchens' views are relevant if his column is used to undermine Dale; I asked if the Mail group had an agenda and Hitchens works for the Mail group! Dale and Hitchens have previously had words on the issue of homosexuality.

  11. Look, all this is lovely for employed gay people. But for me, as a (straight) person without paid work, all Labour seems to want to do is to use me as a scapegoat and dump sh*t on me. The fact they would treat a gay, bisexual or transgender person without a job in the same way is not much comfort.

    I'm voting Green as usual, but I cannot help feeling the upcoming election will be particularly depressing. New Labour, whose position is that I am a piece of cr@p, the Tories, whose position is similar, the Lib Dems who want to impose vicious cuts in public services, oh, and don't forget the rise of the BNP.

  12. Well the only bit that isn't relevant anymore really, is the age of consent bit. People still shout abuse in the street (well they do at me) and the Tories are still blahing on about family values and supporting marriage (that would be the one man, one woman variety I fancy).

    Also what Steph said. The tories will always protect one of their own.

    Yes Labour have introduced some progressive legislation, but homophobia, like racism, hasn't gone away, it's just shape shifted. And the position of upper class gay men on the right has always been pretty comfortable actually, it was just a "don't ask don't tell" one. What d'ya think they all get up to at Eton?

  13. But you can always follow this link to learn more about college majors.


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