Grant Shapps: I haven’t had to deal with homophobic candidates as Tory chair
The Chairman of the Conservative Party has spoken candidly in an interview with PinkNews about the evolution of the party on social issues, and how Britain can act as a world leader.
Tory chair Grant Shapps, who is responsible for the party’s election campaign, sat down for an exclusive Q&A with PinkNews.
Do you think the Tories lost support because of same-sex marriage?
“It was a big controversial issue when it was going through, but I had a woman write to me this week from my constituency, who said ‘I left the party and I stopped coming out to help… but I accept what’s happened has happened, and I want to get on and help you’.
“I think that’s the vast majority of people.”
Are you concerned about some of the comments made by UKIP candidates?
“Fortunately, as party chairman it’s not something I’ve had to deal with at all – we have very few disciplinary cases.
“I could spend the entire interview slating the other parties, but I think your readers would be more interested in the modern-day Tory party.
“I’m the Conservative Party I have been for half of this Parliament – we are a modern, open compassionate party that believes strongly in financial fiscal discipline, and getting the budget sorted out.
“We have what you describe as pretty liberal agenda in allowing people to get on with their lives, without interfering.”
The 2010 elections saw more gay Conservative MPs elected than in any other party – part of that was due to the A-list prioritising LGBT candidates. Has that continued?
“I haven’t had an A-list this time, and I haven’t used particularly strong-armed tactics to get candidates in.
I note that we’ve got a rise in the number of female candidates and BME candidates, particularly in vulnerable seats.
“I haven’t checked but I would not be at all surprised to find that also means we’ve got a rise in gay and lesbian candidates. as well.
I haven’t gone out my way to target numbers – what’s actually happened is the party has just changed, to the point that people who do the selections are totally open-minded, and it becomes a non-issue – which is where it should be.
“I think [the A-list] was helpful, but it was something of 2010’s era.”
The PinkNews poll in December found that economy was the number one issue for deciding which parties to vote for. Five years ago, LGBT issues were at the top – do you think the consensus between the parties on LGBT rights means voters are more open to other parties?
“I think that’s a strong argument. Essentially, the big parties all agree on gay marriage. What’s next?
“I’m delighted about it. Years ago, even as Thatcher’s child, I always thought economically we were right, but socially, the space we occupy now is the space we should have all along, is what I’ve always thought.
“I’ve always just grown up thinking of course equality is what we want in society, and it’s just the ideal society.
“You don’t have to make some false choice between being economically sound and believing in socially progressive policies. I think that’s fantastic.
In the same poll, 86% of readers said they would not vote for an MP who voted against same-sex marriage, even if it meant not voting for the party they support. Is that a problem?
“The leadership of the party all voted in favour.
“It’s not for me to tell people that they are wrong if they don’t want to support a particular candidate – people have strongly held views.
“What’s really interesting is the number of colleagues who have said subsequently ‘on reflection, perhaps I felt under pressure to vote against, perhaps I should have supported this’.”
While we have been improving on LGBT rights, other countries have been going backwards. How could a future Conservative government do more?
I think a lot of countries do look to Britain as a stable democracy that passes laws, that years later tend to be passed in other places.
“But in foreign policy, you can’t do gunboat diplomacy – you can’t go around the world telling people ‘you must change your law to make it more socially liberal’.
“What you can do is set the example and over a period of time, I think it will become the norm.”
Do you think candidates should commit to keeping the status quo, with equal marriage?
“I don’t think Parliament is ever going to undo it. If you look at every single progressive reform ever passed, I can’t think of anything that’s ever been pulled back the other way.
“It’s not on the cards, even colleagues who were most vociferously against the change are not saying we need it in the manifesto.
“It’s someone’s coming out with something incredibly outdated, I’d want to look at that carefully.
“Tell me I’m wrong if it comes up during the campaign but I don’t you’re gonna see that at all, and increasingly what you’ve got are very modern candidates, who are comfortable with everything about Britain is today.
“If you want vote for people who want to take us back to a different era, there are other places and parties to go to – but it’s not the Tory party.”
Do you support the campaign to pardon historic gay sex offences, in the way that Alan Turing was?
“I was involved in the Alan Turing question, as a member of the Home Affairs committee. I was strongly strongly in favour.
“I would think that to be consistent, there may well be many other cases which deserve second looks.
“It might be good to have a case-by-case look at this, but I haven’t studied this enough to give you a definitive answer.”
Looking forward to 2020, when we have a whole generation of new voters, do you think they are going to think of the Conservative Party differently?
“I think we already see it, actually.
“When I go round schools in my constituency, and travel around the country and I talk to sixth formers.. they have no recollection of the old Conservative party, section 28 and so on.
“You must remember that this is a generation that by 2020, this will be like ancient history to them.
“I think it’s already moved on, I think in another five years absolutely.
“Now we have people like Conservative Vice Chair Mike Freer, doing fantastic work with the party’s LGBT Advisory Board, and helping to shape the future of the party.
What would be a few reasons reasons PinkNews readers should think about voting Conservative?
“Number one, we believe in Britain where everybody who wants to work hard and get on in life has the opportunity to succeed.
“We are the party, in fact the only party who represent the sort of root from where we are now to an economy which hasn’t just recovered back to where it was, but now growing faster than the others in western world, and employment falling fast and actually have vision to take us to the next stage which is we’ve already over taken France, in fifteen years time we’re likely to have over taken Germany, but only if we stay on the right path.
“Thirdly, unless you do stay on the right path, you can’t pay for the NHS and long term care and all those stuff that people care passionately about like education, it’s all linked to having a successful economy.
“Fourth reason, because we are the party that believes in aspiration.
“If you put it in to society and put in to work and you should be able to live a life free of government interference.”
Labour have announced they want to make Sex and Relationship Education compulsory. Do the Conservatives back that idea?
“It’s already compulsory in secondary schools, they’re talking about primary schools, my kids are in junior school and so I have experience of them going through it,
“We already provide the opportunity for primary and junior schools to make a judgement as to when and how to do this sex education.
“I think to have some flexibility is actually the right thing to do. It means you can better aim the classes that your pupils.
“I know that my children have enough knowledge and sufficient education to understand the world as it is.
Because we have gay friends they know people who lots of different family structure, and it and I feel comfortable with the way that the schools have approached it.
“We haven’t done that through some sort of top down mandate, the school they have just got on and done it sensibly and swell in my view.
“I think that our view is compulsory in secondary schools, and relationships are best handled at a school level in primary and junior, and I know Nicky Morgan is very passionate about playground homophobic bullying.”