Tories have complained today of a Liberal Democrat election leaflet in south-west London which described a ‘straight fight’ between that party’s candidate and the gay Conservative also standing for the council.
Narrowly losing the Kingston by-election to Liberal Democrat Rebekah Moll, complaints were raised publicly this morning over material produced by the party ahead of the election.
That material described a ‘straight fight’ between the Liberal Democrat candidate and an ‘unknown Conservative’ who was not identified on the leaflet.
The Conservatives had in fact fielded barrister Adrian Amer, who is gay. The Conservative Party’s LGBT group LGBTory said the language was “insensitive at best”.
Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of Stonewall, tweeted: “Shocking news coming in about things whispered on doorsteps in Kingston Council by-election,” and questioned whether the result would have been different otherwise.
Matthew Sephton, Chairman of LGBTory said today: “I am shocked to hear the allegations of homophobic campaigning in this week’s Kingston by-election and I urge the Liberal Democrats to look into this matter further.
“Talk of a ‘straight fight’ or a ‘straight choice’ in such a campaign is at best insensitive and at worst a poor veil for blatant prejudice.”
While the phrase ‘straight choice’ has appeared in election literature for all three main parties in recent years as well as the phrase ‘straight fight’, comparisons were drawn between this by-election and 1983’s Bermondsey by-election, in which Simon Hughes, now deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, beat Peter Tatchell.
Mr Hughes was billed as the ‘straight choice’ in the campaign against a gay rival, later coming out as bisexual himself.
Mr Hughes later said: “I hope that there will never be that sort of campaign again. I have never been comfortable about the whole of that campaign, as Peter knows, and I said that to him in the past . . . Where there were things that were inappropriate or wrong, I apologise for that.”
A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said today of the Kingston leaflet: “The Liberal Democrats have a long and proud record of fighting for LGBT+ rights. In the Coalition Government we are working to deliver equal marriage and promote equality around the world. Today we are flying the pride flag above the Cabinet Office, the first time it has flown on Whitehall.
“There was no intention whatsoever to use the word straight in a way which could be seen as derogatory to a gay candidate. This is a phrase used in campaign literature across the country, regardless of sexuality, by all parties.
“Sexuality is, and should be, completely irrelevant in political campaigning. And Liberal Democrats completely abhor campaigning which could be interpreted as offensive.
“The ‘straight choice’ leaflets from the 1980s were wrong and offensive. The party has made it clear to all our campaigners that such language is not acceptable in our campaigns and has taken clear action where it has crossed the line.“