PinkNews.co.uk correspondent Adam Lake reports from the Conservative Party Conference
Spirit Bar in Canal Street was packed to its 650-person capacity last night as the Tories held their first-ever official gay event.
The event was attended by many high-profile Conservative MPs and shadow cabinet ministers including shadow equalities minister Theresa May and party chairman Eric Pickles.
The event drew protests from Christian groups who held a protest along the entrance of Canal Street. Andrew Clarke, national campaign manager for Christian Watch, was among them:
“We are here this evening because we want the people to go back to biblical principles, we want to save peoples souls,” he told PinkNews.co.uk.
“I’ve actually had a really enjoyable evening and we have had a lot of interesting conversations with people this evening.
“I don’t think that we are going to have any effect on the choices that gay people make, but our priority is to save people’s souls, which is why we felt we had to come here today.”
The event also drew lively protests from members of the gay community, fearful of what a Conservative government might mean for them.
Local resident Mathew Helbert told PinkNews.co.uk: “I find it offensive that the Tories are here today, we fought for so many years for equality which they tried to stop and now they’re here. I’m worried that if the Tories get back in to power then all of the good work that we have done will have been for nothing.
“The gay village wouldn’t have existed if they had their way.”
Party chairman Eric Pickles told partygoers: “We’re very, very proud of this event tonight and I think that this has shown just how far the Conservatives have come.
“Next year I want to see another official gay pride night and I hope to see you all there!”
Openly gay shadow environment secretary Nick Herbert told the crowd he was “living proof” of the fact the party had changed.
He said: “I am lucky enough to be in David Cameron’s shadow cabinet as an out gay man, I was elected as an out gay man, I have never experienced any prejudice or obstacle along the way.”
Herbert added that the party was proof that “gay people are not the property of the left.”
Party host and Conservative blogger Iain Dale told PinkNews.co.uk: “I’m really pleased that so many people have come and that people are having such a great time, I think that it is really important that we have events like this.”
There was much speculation at the non-attendance of Ben Summerskill who was expected to speak at the event. Summerskill pulled out at the last minute, citing concerns over Tory allies in Europe.
“It’s a shame that he has made the decision not to come,” Dale commented. “He’s behaved in a disgraceful way.”
Also in attendance were Shailesh Vara, shadow deputy leader of the house, Margot James, the prospective parliamentary candidate for Stourbridge, Crispin Blunt, MP for Reigate and shadow immigration minister Damian Green.
The £15-a-head party was held outside the conference secure zone, allowing non-party members to attend.
“The interest in the Conference Pride party has been phenomenal,” said party organiser Scott Seaman-Digby. “It has become the event to be seen at.”
The bar served a number of cocktails specially created for the evening including one called ‘The Cameron PM’.
“There has always be an unofficial gay event at Conservative Conference,” one reveller told PinkNews.co.uk, “but I think that having an official event and having such a large amount of support from leading people in the party means a lot to us and should mean a lot to the Conservatives.”