As a political journalist, I regularly talk to MPs and activists of all parties.
Tories spend most of their time telling me how much their party has changed and how it now loves gay people and everything connected to them.
When challenged on the feeble voting records of the vast majority of their MPs on actual, practical gay equality measures, they spin a lovely line about the “new Tories” who will be elected as part of the first Cameron government.
They are much more responsive to “progressive social agendas” and the party will blossom into a political movement open to all.
Feeble may be something of an understatement on the issue of votes for gay rights.
On January 9th 2008, for example, 150 out of 155 Conservative MPs (97%) voted to weaken a law against incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.
In March 2007, 75% of them voted against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations.
In other words 85 out of the 114 Tory MPs who voted oppose protection for LGB people when accessing goods and services.
David Cameron seems like an attractive package, but lurking behind him is a big group of MPs who clearly either reject protections for sexual minorities or are not clued up enough to realise that their voting records make a mockery of their party’s stated desire to reach out.
Philip Davies is one of those MPs.
He certainly seems very keen on getting his mug in the papers, bless him.
First elected in 2005, he should by all accounts be one of these “new Tories” we hear so much about.
Judging by his latest embarassing outburst in the House of Commons, he did not get the memo.
He apparently thinks we are living in the 1980s, or as he no doubt calls them, the good old days.
Yesterday he called for a debate on “political correctness” because of LGBT History Month.
Yes, LGBT History Month.
The event the Prime Minister is holding a Downing St reception next week to celebrate.
Poor Mr Davies has struggled with the concept and it leaves him cold.
He was particularly exercised by the school performance of a gay version of Romeo and Juliet.
“May we have a debate on political correctness in the light of the excellent remarks made by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government earlier this week, and particularly in relation to schools?” he asked Commons Leader Harriet Harman.
“Despite the right hon. Lady’s speech, they are currently enjoying a lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-history month, with schools performing Romeo and Julian.
“Does the Leader of the Opposition (sic) agree that it is better for pupils to learn about Romeo and Juliet and Shakespeare than the politically correct Romeo and Julian, and does she also agree with her right hon. Friend on these matters?”
For the avoidance of doubt, representations of gay or lesbian relationships are “political correctness.” So speaks the Tory backbench.
Mr Davies comments were of course picked up that enemy of gay people, the Daily Mail.
The paper, which if it existed in human form would be serving multiple sentences for hate crimes, managed to extract further comment from Mr Davies.
“This is mind-blowing. Anyone with an ounce of sense would want their children to be learning Romeo and Juliet rather than Romeo and Julian,” he said.
That must be a comfort to the thousands of lesbian, gay and bisexual people who live in his constituency of Shipley.
Mr Davies has a majority of less than one percent – 422 votes.
Shipley may not be Soho, but I hope any and all voters who have gay, lesbian and bisexual friends or family or think gay people deserve equality will ponder these issues before they vote.
In the House, Harriet Harman responded to his yelps of outrage as follows:
“As far as pressing forward on equality is concerned, there will be a debate next Thursday on new equality legislation, so that we can ensure everybody in this country is treated with fairness and respect and is not subject to prejudice and discrimination—or, indeed, cheap shots from the hon. Gentleman.”
He found support, of course, from that deranged band of mostly ex-pat racists, bigots and idiots that roam the Daily Mail comment boards.
“I agree with the Tory MP that if you are going to teach or study Shakespeare then it should be the original version and some perverted version …”
“This is absolutely ridiculous. People can’t help being gay, but we don’t need to have it rammed down our throats …”
“Drama teacher Jo Letson reworked Shakespeare’s play to challenge ‘ homophobia and homophobic bullying’. Whats the betting Letson is a PC Liberal Idiot or probably just an idiot. Wouldn’t want any child of mine to be exposed to this rubbish.”
Let me be crystal clear.
Mr Cameron, if you want gay votes, start acting like it.
Frankly, you look very stupid claiming to lead a progressive party when your MPs vote down gay rights legislation and attack efforts to improve the lives of gay kids at school.
I think the whips need to have a nice word with Mr Davies and others who constantly rail against any moves to help gay people or present them as equal members of society, and then go and rant about it in the Daily Mail.
Your party may have two white middle-class gay men in its Shadow Cabinet, alongside a bewildering display of closet cases among your MPs, but every time Philip Davies and those like him squeal about “political correctness” it loses you votes. Gay votes. My vote.