The Prime Minister was speaking at the Stonewall Equality dinner at the Dorchester Hotel, central London, this evening.
He was introduced by Stonewall’s chief executive, Ben Summerskill.
Ben Summerskill: I would like to welcome all of you here tonight. I am delighted to introduce our opening speaker.
I first met him 14 years ago, when my job was to show him round Harrow Rd police station in west London – don’t ask.
He had just been appointed Shadow Home Secretary, and I will always remember that during a QA with a number of police officers, he said very firmly that he thought in the fullness of time, it was critically important that police services reflected the communities they serve. There was a lot of shuffling of size 12 feet.
Needless to say, three, I think were women, and two were black. I do remember thinking at the time, this is a guy who takes equality seriously and I think there was evidence of that in the intervening years.
I think it was James Callaghan who said rather ruefully, shortly after he retired, that as far as he could see the only real success he had in government was the relocation of the driver and vehicle licensing centre.
My own view is that, even with civil partnerships alone, almost matches …
He has done so much more than that for gay people in this country. He has been a good friend, a good friend to Stonewall, a good friend to gay people across Britain. I am delighted to introduce him, he is the MP for Sedgefield, Tony Blair.
Tony Blair Thank you very much indeed. It is a real honour to be here this evening at the Stonewall Equality dinner, and to say thank you to Ben for that kind introduction.
Actually, I remember Harrow Rd police station.
I remember it particularly because there was a member of my staff at the time who had a very good sense of humour and she said to me, because she knew some of the issues that were going to come up, including gay rights, that actually I should go for it. It went down really well.
And afterwards she said: “Can you still not tell when I am joking?”
Just before I came here tonight, I, er, this is a sad reflection of type of thing you do towards the end of your time in office, I got out one of my old speeches and re-read it.
It was a speech back in 1994, when, I think it was on an amendment by Edwina Currie and Neil Kinnock, interestingly enough, it wasn’t a combination that was often found.
They had come together to move an amendment on equality on the age of consent. The thing that really struck me, re-reading the speech this evening, was just how a whole lot of things that nowadays we would more or less take for granted.
I mean, you had to start literally with the very, very first principles. including arguments like: “how do you stop people being persuaded to be gay?”
And I was thinking that is an interesting idea.
I have got five really good arguments in favour of being gay. And I remember saying to the guy who was on the opposite side afterwards: “You know, I am not gay and I wouldn’t be persuaded by five really good arguments.”
And he said to me: “No, no, of course not, of course not.” And I said: “But maybe it is the same the other way round?” He had never thought of it like that at all obviously.
The interesting thing is that you then fast-forward to last night in the House of Lords, and the fact is the vote was won, which is an incredible thing.
And I really just wanted to say two things about the changes that have happened over the past ten years, which you will know very well.
There are a lot of important things, but I think civil partnerships is really the thing … as I was saying to people earlier, it doesn’t just give you a lot of pride, but it actually brought real joy.
I don’t know whether you remember the very first day, and it was quite a bizarre circumstance that the first ceremonies were actually in Northern Ireland.
I was so struck by it, it was so alive, I remember actually seeing the pictures on television. It is not often that you sort of skip around in my job, I can assure you, But it really the fact that that the people were so happy and the fact that you felt just one major, major change had happened, of which everyone can feel really proud.
And now I think we were just saying, was it 16,000 civil partnerships, and what is interesting now is that other countries in Europe are looking at this legislation, and it is very divisive still in Spain and Italy at the moment. But nonetheless it is happening.
This is my second reflection about it all.
There are a whole load of different pieces of legislation, which I will not rehearse here, but what has happened is that the culture of the country has changed in a definable way as a result of it. And here is what I think is really interesting.
The change in the culture and the civilising effect of it has gone far greater than the gay and lesbian community.
In other words, by taking a stand on these issues and by removing prejudice and discrimination, and by enabling people to stand proud as what they are, it has had an impact that I think is far more profound in the way the country thinks about itself.
And I want to say we have an immensely proud history, that is able to stand on its own merits in the 21st Century and say that we know we have a great future.
One thing I think is very important for any country that is to succeed in the future you make the most of the talents and abilities of your people.
If you allow discrimination to fester, that is a complete rejection of that modernising and civilising notion.
That is what is really important and it is why as the day approaches … I mean even I get casual about this legacy business
Well I think it is actually part of the last ten years – that certainly I will look back on with a lot of pride.
However there is one final thing I wanted to say to you and it is this.
It would not have happened really, I mean, some people this evening have been very kind and said that it took a certain amount of political courage.
Well yes it did, but you know I remember back in the early ’80s when this type of issue was condemned as political correctness, when this was the loony-left, as it were, engaged in this.
Stonewall, in my view, played a fundamental and often insufficiently recognised part in achieving this. I want to tell you why.
When you are trying to do something that is difficult, divisive and when, as a politician, you do something that you know is going to be controversial … it is all very well saying well I want to do this and you can see some of you people are up for it and some of them are thinking “well, hmm”
What actually matters enormously is that the people from outside politics that you are trying to do it with have a sufficient intelligence and sensitivity, which I think has really defined the Stonewall campaign, I define it as a polite determination.
In other words, a complete push and drive to get the thing done, but also a way of doing it that is always looking to bring people onside, that is always looking to understand sensitivities, that is always willing to say, “look, this is something we would like to help get done with you in a sensible and intelligent way.”
What Stonewall did, and Angela Mason, who I thought was absolutely fantastic when she was the Head, and now Ben what they did was remarkable and it is a real tribute.
And you see here we are this evening at the Stonewall Equality dinner, and a lot of the tables are from some of the best-known names in business and commerce, and this is part of the diversity agenda now of these big companies.
Now everyone is entirely in favour of this. There is a greater competition for the so-called gay and lesbian vote.
This is a fantastic thing that all the party leaders today, and in the future actually all of them will be, I think, in favour of equality.
That is a sign of how much things have changed and actually we should not be worried about that, we should actually be proud of it. It is a great achievement for our country.
I just wanted to say this evening how deeply grateful I am for the invitation to come along and be here tonight with you at the Stonewall Equality dinner.
I would like to thank each and every one of you for helping in what will be an important signal that you are part of the mainstream of our society today, and that progress does actually come about because people are determined.
Thank you to you because we could not have done it without you and I do look back on it with pride and I wanted to share that with you.
Thank you very much.