Editorial: Reward the heroes and punish the villains of LGBT rights in Parliament
The PinkNews editorial and management teams are as divided as our readership and the country when it comes to the general election.
Some favour a Labour-led coalition government, others a Conservative-led coalition and some a grand coalition. Others don’t care so long as their own party of choice survives on Thursday.
It has always been the position of PinkNews to never back a political party at any election in the UK and this is something that we continue to maintain. However, after some of the most eventful Parliaments for LGBT rights in many years, it is worth considering whether there are individuals, fighting tight races, who absolutely must be returned to continue to serve in public life and if there are others we would rather do without.
The LGBT highlight of the last Parliament, and indeed the first decade of PinkNews was the passing of same-sex marriage. The dramatic change in law would not have happened without Lynne Featherstone, Theresa May, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, who put it on the government agenda in 2011. With the support of Ed Miliband and Yvette Cooper (then shadow minister for equalities), the Labour party ensured that the votes in the Commons passed with a huge majority. While Miliband, Cooper, Cameron and May are the proud holders of ‘safe-seats’, Clegg and Featherstone are not.
We shall not dwell here on the positives or negatives of Nick Clegg. To some he is a hero for championing LGBT rights, the pupil premium and putting the national interest above party politics. For many others though, he is someone who betrayed their confidence by changing his stance on university tuition fees and changes to housing benefits, the so called ‘bedroom tax’.
For Lynne Featherstone, the position is much clearer. Without her steadfast campaign from the moment the Coalition was formed, it is likely that the notion of same-sex marriage in our country would not have got beyond the pages of PinkNews.
She entered into government with one aim; to get this onto the statute book and she achieved it, thanks to convincing a cross party coalition of MPs to back her cause. We were proud to name Lynne our Ally of the Year at the PinkNews Awards in 2014, recognising her extraordinary achievements. Since the law was changed, Lynne has turned her attention to the rights of women, leading a high profile campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM) as well as LGBT rights in the developing world. Parliament and public life would be a weaker place without her.
Lynne’s seat of Hornsey and Wood Green is part of a cluster of seats in North London where four different general elections are being fought out. Hers is the only Lib Dem seat, while the other three, Hendon, Harrow East and Finchley and Golders Green are held by Conservatives. All four face switching to Labour on Thursday.
In Finchley and Golders Green, Conservative Mike Freer is fighting for his political life. But as is the case with Lynne, LGBT representation in Parliament would be diminished without him there. Aside from championing same-sex marriage, for which he won awards from PinkNews and the Spectator, Mike has almost single handedly advocated the need for HPV vaccines for men. HPV vaccines, currently given to girls and women protect them from cancers that develop from catching HPV in receptive sex and it is scandalous that men who have sex with men (MSM) are not similarly protected on the NHS. Without Mike in Parliament, the progress already made on this issue and many others that he has championed might not continue.
On the other hand, Mike and Lynne’s neighbouring MPs Matthew Offord in Hendon and Bob Blackman in Harrow East are Conservative MPs we could rather do without. Offord was unrelenting with his attacks on the introduction of same-sex marriage, ignoring his many LGBT constituents who desperately wanted to marry. He claimed that it would lead to legalising polygamy, which aside from the pipe dreams of Natalie Bennett, is something we cannot imagine happening. The Labour challenger in the seat is Andrew Dismore, who served the people of Hendon for 13 years as the local MP before 2010. His excellent voting record on LGBT issues stands in stark contrast to Matthew Offord’s and local LGBT people would be better served with Andrew Dismore in Parliament.
Bob Blackman in Harrow East has the most extraordinary record of all of the sitting MPs we have considered. Few anti-gay marriage MPs angered us as much as he did with his sanctimonious line that “marriage is between one man and one woman” while conducting a decade-long affair behind his wife’s back. As a man without shame, even after his own infidelity was exposed, Blackman has claimed voting against the liberties of same-sex couples was among his greatest achievements in Parliament. It would be appropriate if that achievement lost him his job. 85% of PinkNews readers said that they would vote against a candidate who didn’t support same-sex marriage, even if that meant voting against the party they wish to govern. Blackman, provides a useful case in point.
No party is infallible on same-sex marriage. Aside from the Green Party and Plaid Cymru, who don’t have enough MPs to facilitate dissent, members from all parties voted against. Some politicians from Labour, the Lib Dems, the Conservatives, the DUP and UKIP all opposed it, while some SNP politicians voted against it in Scotland. However, Blackman and Offord are two of the few MPs in extremely tight marginals where the LGBT population could be large enough to swing the result.
Outside of London in Brighton Pavillion, Caroline Lucas, the Green’s sole MP in the last Parliament is fighting a tight three-way race against Labour and the Conservatives, with Labour the real challengers. Like Mike and Lynne, Caroline is a PinkNews Award recipient, last year named MP of the Year for her tireless work to reform sex and relationship education. Despite the unpopularity of the Green party locally due to the way that the party has run the local council, we hope that local residents consider re-electing Caroline to Parliament and recognise that the representation of LGBT people would be weaker without her lone Green voice.
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Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls – a strong voice for equality – is also fighting to retain his slim majority in his Morley and Outwood seat.
In Northern Ireland, the sole Alliance MP in the last Parliament, Naomi Long has a wafer thin majority in Belfast East. She wrestled the seat from the First Minister of Northern Ireland, the DUP’s Peter Robinson in 2010 in a bitterly fought election. She was one of just two Northern Irish MPs to vote for same-sex marriage in Westminster and her party leads the charge on introducing equality in Northern Ireland. In a Parliament where the DUP and its virulently homophobic views will likely have more influence, it is important that Naomi remains in Westminster.
In Scotland, the SNP looks certain to gain many seats from Labour and the Liberal Democrats, which would mean losing many of our community’s strong allies in Parliament including Lib Dem Equalities Minister Jo Swinson and Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander. Parliament would be weaker without both of them and their excellent voting records. However, we hope and trust that the new SNP MPs will follow the strong leadership of Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond on LGBT equalities, between them ensuring that Scotland’s own same-sex marriage law is more equal for trans people than the law in England and Wales. We also hope that the party continues to ignore the views of one of its largest donors, Stagecoach founder Sir Brian Souter, who in the past was also the largest donor to anti-gay causes.
Across the country, there are many other allies and outstanding LGBT candidates fighting for a place in Parliament. Some like Emily Brothers, Labour’s first openly trans candidate, face no prospect of winning but deserves support to enable her to fight a winnable seat in the future. Others, like the Lib Dems Adrian Trett, the first candidate for Parliament to disclose they are HIV positive, along with the Green’s David Kirwan, cannot win but have already challenged prejudice and will act as role models for many.
However, you decide who to vote for and what we hope most of all is that you do actually vote. This is the closest election in a generation and in many seats your vote really does matter. Earlier we highlighted two seats where the incumbent MP voted against same-sex marriage and the LGBT electorate could decide the outcome of the election. Click here to find a list of all of the candidates who were MPs in the last Parliament and voted against same-sex marriage.
It’s up to you to decide if like 85% of readers, you’d not support them now.