The Conservative Party narrowly held onto its Bromley and Chiselhurst seat yesterday in a by-election which has been riddled with homophobia and personal abuse.
Bob Neill won the seat which was vacant after the death of Eric Forth in May, beating Liberal Democrat candidate Ben Abbotts by 633 votes, reducing the party’s majority in the area from 13,342 to 700.
Labour’s Rachel Reeves came fourth in the election, behind the UK Independence Party.
Independent candidate John Hemming-Clark, who received only 442 votes, had used part of his campaign to question Mr Neill’s sexual orientation. Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell accused Mr Hemming-Clark of “gutter politics”
The candidate’s website said: “Leaflets are dropping aplenty through the letter boxes of Bromley and Chislehurst with the main candidates extolling their married with children credentials.
“Except there is no such extolment from the Conservative Candidate. An email to Conservative Campaign HQ elicits no response. An email to Bob Neill’s own campaign office elicits no response either. So I try the direct approach. One of my team collars
him on Saturday as he wanders up and down the High Street in Bromley. He’s about to press a leaflet into their hand. “Are you gay?” they ask him. No reply and off he marches.
“They then ring his campaign team on Monday. ‘Is Bob Neill gay?’ they ask. ‘He has a partner,’ they reply, Male or female? ‘Female.’ But he can still be gay. Is
he gay?” No reply, just a giggle.”
He claimed it is the Bromley Conservatives who care whether Mr Neill is gay, referring to the controversy over Tory Party leader David Cameron’s A list of parliamentary candidates.
“Is it important if he’s gay or not? Some may say “yes.”
The site refers to a quote in a Daily Telegraph article last May, “A member of Bromley Conservative Club said “We need a traditional man like him [Eric Forth] that has good values. There would be a real problem if we had a gay person”
“So maybe David Cameron has got his way after all, and the Conservatives of Bromley and Chislehurst have a real problem,” he said.
Mr Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk: “Trying to smear Bob Neill as gay is real gutter politics. Any candidate who uses homophobia to win votes is unfit for public office. A candidate’s
sexuality or race is irrelevant. Politicians should be judged on their policies, not their private lives.”
Mr Hemming Clark told PinkNews.co.uk, “To me it doesn’t matter, but the Conservatives obviously think it does.
“I’m just asking the question and haven’t got an answer.”
Mr Neill, 53, has a partner, Daphne, and has represented the Bromley area as its Greater London Assembly member for the last six years
A spokesman for Mr Neill told PinkNews.co.uk: “It’s a great shame when people are reduced to making false claims about people’s sexuality however ridiculous they may be.”
Mr Neill used his acceptance speech to criticise his rivals campaign tactics.
Meanwhile Labour failed to regain Blaenau Gwent in a by election after Dai Davis filled the Independent seat left by the late Peter Law, a Labour rebel. Labour also lost its Welsh Assembly majority to Mr Law’s widow, Trish Law.