The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott has come under fire from the gay community for his decision to stay with an American billionaire who is not only bidding to run a government licensed casino, but is also a well known for his anti-gay views.
This is just the latest in a long lines of scandals to have engulfed Mr Prescott in recent months and centres on his undeclared stay with senior civil servants on Philip Anschutz’s ranch in July of last year.
The Millennium Dome, which Mr Anschutz owns has been short-listed for the sole government license for a super casino.
In the past, Mr Anschutz has donated large sums of money to Colorado for Family Values, an organisation with explicit homophobic views. He is also a major patron of the Republican Party and funded ‘Amendment 2’, a voter initiated ballot to overturn gay rights in the state of Colorado. He is also a major donor for the Institute for American Values, who campaign against single parent families.
Voters approved ‘Amendment 2’ in 1992 which changed the state’s constitution to explicitly ban laws that protected gay and lesbian people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation.
The approval of the amendment by voters led for some activists to label Colorado as a “hate sate”, and there were mass protests by LGBT campaigners outside of churches.
However, in 1996, the United States Supreme court declared that the amendment was unconstitutional. “We find nothing special in the protections Amendment 2 withholds,” said the then Justice Anthony Kennedy. “These are protections taken for granted by most people either because they already have them or do not need them.”
Condemning the decision for Mr Prescott to stay at Mr Anschut’s ranch, the human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk: “It is highly inappropriate for the Deputy Prime Minister to accept hospitality from someone who is a hard-line homophobe and who clearly stands to benefit from casino franchises that are being dolled out by Mr Prescott’s government.
“I doubt that Mr Prescott would accept the hospitality for an owed racist or anti-Semite. Why then is he prepared to be hosted by a bigoted homophobes?”
Commenting on the fact that Mr Anshutz, already owner of the Millennium Dome will be a major employer in an area with a large and growing gay community, Mr Tatchell said: “It’s worrying that a homophobic tycoon like Anshutz is going to be a major employer in Greenwich, when quite obviously in his heart he doesn’t believe that gay people deserve equal respect and rights.”
Ben Summerskill, the Chief Executive of the gay lobbying and campaign group, Stonewall, told PinkNews.co.uk:”Given that his voting record is quite good I would be rather surprised if they found anything congenial to discuss over supper. I find it curious that John Prescott would think that he had anything in common with Mr Anshutz given that John is a particularly liberal person.”
Mr Summerskill added with a laugh: “I think Mr Anshutz is unlikely to be turning away the pink pound should he win the license to open up Britain’s first super casino.”
Mr Prescott’s decision to meet with Mr Anshutz was also criticised by Lorely Burt MP, The Liberal Democrat’s Shadow Minister for Women and Equality. She told PinkNews.co.uk: “I question whether he really is the sort of person that the government should be associating themselves with.”
Mrs Burt added: “Then its hardly any more healthy that the Prime Minister’s relationship with George Bush!”
Labour MP for Vaxhaull and former Sports Minister, Kate Hoey told Sky News: “To be Deputy Prime Minister, you have to be an incredible person, and I don’t think that he is.”
A spokesperson for John Prescott told PinkNews.co.uk: “The Deputy Prime Minister has to deal with people that come within his remit. His remit was to meet Mr Anshutz to discuss the regeneration of the Greenwich Peninsula and nothing else.”
His spokesperson confirmed that the pair met for dinner and discussed William Wilberforce, the anti-slavery MP who previously represented Mr Prescott’s Hull constituency but could not comment on whether Mr Prescott discussed gay rights with Mr Anshutz.
Responding to a Parliamentary question from Conservative Culture spokesman Hugo Swire, Mr Prescott said: “”I totally reject the allegations that have been made in the press, and that you repeat, that draw into question the transparency and independence of the decisions made in respect of the Dome or an application for a regional casino,” he said.
“I played no role with any planning decision relating to the Dome, or in any negotiations with Philip Anschutz for the sale of the Dome, which were carried out by Lord Falconer at the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and which were completed in May 2002.”
Hugo Swire, Shadow Culture Secretary said: “The Government must make a full statement to Parliament on the precise role of John Prescott over casinos. It is clear that Mr Prescott has a direct and personal involvement, but despite his stay at the 32,000 acre home of an American billionaire, he did not declare his interests to the Commons.
“Mr Prescott’s wheeling and dealing causes further concern that Labour’s determination to relax gambling laws is being driven by big business, not the public interest.”