Interview: Liz Kendall wants to be a ‘warrior’ for LGBT rights
Labour leadership candidate Liz Kendall speaks to PinkNews about why she, like Ed Miliband, wants to be a ‘warrior’ on LGBT rights.
Where did you think Labour went wrong, and what would you do differently?
I think we lost the election because we lost touch with too many people; people didn’t trust us on the economy or with their taxes and we didn’t have a positive enough vision of the country of a better life that people could feel a part of.
That has to change if we are going to win the election in 2020, and change the country.
Ed Miliband said he would put LGBT rights at the heart of government. You’ve been fairly critical of Labour’s election campaign – is that one of the things he did right?
Absolutely. All my life, before I became a politician, from the very get-go, I’ve always pushed for equality; equality for women, LGBT equality, equality for those with different ethnic or religious backgrounds. Equality runs through my veins, through my bone marrow.
I’m really proud of our achievement from our time in government on LGBT issues – and it was, thank goodness, Labour MPs who helped the government get through equal marriage.
But it has got be about far more than the legislative side of things – unless you can walk down the street holding hands with the person that you and can behave exactly as you want, we won’t have succeeded with equality and that is the next big thing that we have got to change.
Most of the UK has same-sex marriage, but in Northern Ireland, it’s still being blocked by the devolved government.
Ed Miliband pledged to be a ‘warrior’ for LGBT rights around the world, but when people asked him ‘what are you going to do to pressure Northern Ireland on the issue in your own country’, he said ‘it’s a devolved issue and my hands are tied’. How do you address that?
I want to see equal marriage in Northern Ireland. I do hope politicians in Northern Ireland go with the views of the public and listen to the really strong campaigners on this issue.
I want to see action taken on it. I believe that if you’re Prime Minister and and believe in equal rights, then you want to those equal rights in all of the devolved nations, and that is certainly what I’d champion.
How would you go about helping rights campaigners in Northern Ireland?
By strongly backing their cause. By saying that you can’t have equality in some parts on the UK and not in others.
I really hope that politicians in Northern Ireland will listen to the growing support on this issue, and have the courage to tackle the issue head on.
What we can see from [the US marriage ruling] is that the world is changing and politicians need to be leading that change, not trying to fight it.
Ed Miliband pledged to appoint Lord Michael Cashman as his Envoy on LGBT rights. Would you keep him on?
I would hope that, if I’m elected as leader, that Michael would absolutely remain in that role.
If we’re elected in 2020, he would have the force of the Foreign Office behind him, rather than with Philip Hammond, who hasn’t been championing this issue particularly.
Will you – to use Ed’s words – be a ‘warrior’ for LGBT rights?
Yes, absolutely! I hope that, if I’m elected, Michael and others will be standing beside me.
If you believe in equality, that’s what you believe and you want to see made real – you don’t just think you want a little bit of equality here, but not there because it’s too difficult.
You either think it’s right that people can live love, express views and their passions – or you don’t.
Either you feel it is completely wrong and unjust and unfair and you’re going to tackle it or you don’t. There’s no option for me because that’s who I am.
Similarly – David Cameron has said that he is ‘personally committed’ to stamping out hate crime…
I represent a very diverse constituency. I think hate crime can manifest itself in many different ways and for different groups.
What I would say to David Cameron is, if you promote a divisive and divided politics, often that’s what can result. I believe we have more that unites us than divides us.
Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg have said that one of the proudest things the coalition achieved was same-sex marriage…
I think it is great that David Cameron did champion that issue, but I think it was deeply disturbing that he couldn’t persuade many of his own MPs to vote for it. As I said, it was only because Labour MPs voted for it that it went through.
But by no means is every Tory in the cabinet in the right place on this issue right now. Philip Hammond is less bothered about securing equal rights internationally, and more bothered about telling embassies they can’t fly the Pride flag.
Some might say that’s due to the lack of the influence of the Liberal Democrats in the new government.
No, I’m sure it’s Philip Hammond’s view. I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the Liberal Democrats not being there.
And, look – if you were a disabled LGBT person in my constituency, who used to get someone to help them get up, washed, dressed and fed – and now doesn’t because the Liberal Democrats backed the biggest cuts of all to local government, you wouldn’t think they were particularly an enlightened force.
The Republic of Ireland just passed their Gender Recognition bill, and it’s actually far more progressive than ours – treating gender recognition as a statutory process and not a medical one.
Should we look again at our gender recognition laws, in order to keep up with the neighbours?
Yes. We’ve always got to review our legislation and make it promotes genuine equality at all time.
But while legislation plays a vital role, there are also other things we’ve got to make sure that we doing too.
Labour’s sex education policy is something that picked up flack during the election – when Tristram Hunt announced the plans, the Mail published it as ‘Sex lessons at five under Labour’. Do you worry it will alienate the more centre-conservative you are trying to win over?
Knowledge is always a good thing, never a bad thing.
I want to see an end to the homophobic bullying that is rife in our schools, I want to have compulsory sex and relationship education to help promote equality and LGBT rights. We voted for this time and time again during the last government, and the Tories resisted that.
You’ve got to change people’s hearts and minds.
With religious schools, there’s also the question of religious freedom – for example most Catholic schools would say it contradicts their faith to teach children about same-sex relationships.
I think it is important to teach age-appropriate sex education, whether they are faith schools, free schools, academies or local authority schools.
I’m passionate about education, but I think that involves more than academic and vocational skills – it’s about helping them thrive in the world once they’ve left school.
I want this to be a country where people feel free and confident to walk down the street with the person I love and express that love.
Something Yvette Cooper has been very clear on is that of the party leadership, either the Leader or Deputy Leader should always be a woman. Do you agree with that?
Yes, I do agree with that. We have to reflect the country of which we serve. We were criticised for having all women short-lists, something I was very supportive of.
We’ve got a long way to go to be genuinely representative of the country. And not just because people want to see politicians who and sound like them, but because they bring different ideas to the table.
I want people to be part of a big new team that is going to change the party, so that we can change the country.
A few of your supporters seem upset that Jeremy Corbyn is even in the leadership contest – he is someone who, since before I was even born, has been championing LGBT rights in Parliament. For 30 years, he has been Labour’s most consistent voice on gay rights.
Do you welcome him into this leadership campaign, and do you recognise his contribution to the fight for equality?
He has a very strong record on that. Look, my politics on many issues is not the same as his, but certainly on equal rights, he has been a strong champion, as am I.
I also think he understands on wider political issues, we are far too centralised – I want to get power out of Whitehall and down into our communities.
But I am very different on many other of his policies. We’ll have a big debate, we’re a broad church in the Labour Party – but I don’t think that Jeremy’s politics is going to help in 2020 – and the reason we want to win is so we can change the country.
Are you glad he is on the ballot?
Well, I’m sure Jeremy and his supporters would have had that debate anyway!
Look, we have 24 hustings to get through around the country – I want to have that debate and to win.
David Cameron recently told PinkNews that he would consider the case for banning ‘gay cure’ therapy – in the US, in states like California and New Jersey, they have come down really hard on this…
It’s absolutely essential – I have been absolutely disgusted and appalled at the things I’ve read on this. It should have absolutely no place in Britain in the bloody 21st century.
There’s a Private Members’ Bill coming through the Lords on this – would you encourage Labour peers to support it?
Absolutely – I haven’t seen the bill yet – but that has absolutely no place in Britain today, no place.
As leader of the Labour Party and possibly Prime Minister, you would have privileged access to the Archbishop of Canterbury. What would you say to him about LGBT rights?
I’m never one to hide my light under a bushel, I would say that I will discuss that with the Archbishop, as well as man other issues.
He’s been a campaigner in things I believe in, on poverty, debt and payday lenders. I will no no doubt discuss those with him as well as LGBT issues – because that is your position as leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister – to make clear your principles and hope you can bring people with you.
Charles Clarke recently called for religious education to be reformed as ‘Religious and Moral Education’ with a stronger secular element – as well as an end to mandatory worship in state schools.
Where do you stand on this, an issue that arguably matters more to those in middle England that you’re appealing to?
I went to a comprehensive state school in Watford, and represent a very diverse constituency now – I strongly believe that when you’re at school, understanding other people’s faiths and religions is essential – but most of all it’s about understanding what we have in common and not what divides us.
That’s especially important when you’re growing up – learning that people can have different views in different faiths, but we have more in common than what divides us.
My parents are Christians. I’m not religious myself, but I have great respect for faith.
Wikipedia tells me you were captain of your women’s football team! As we saw during the Women’s World Cup, our team featured a number of openly gay players – but that isn’t the case across men’s football and some other sports. How do we break down barriers in sport on this issue?
I was captain, but not through a massive amount of talent! I was good leader, if not that brilliant a goalscorer.
It goes back to education – it’s about making sure kids understand about these issues. It also requires people having the courage to come out in sport.
We’ve seen that in some areas of sport, but not in others. We should be championing those who have the courage to come out and talk about their sexuality, but it is very hard.
We’ve seen that in politics, too. We’ve got more MPs who are out now, but we’ve got so much further to go.
In order to win in 2020, Labour has to win back Scotland. A lot of people who abandoned Labour for the SNP did so because they feel it’s a left-wing alternative to Labour. How do you win them back – without shifting to the left?
Winning back Scotland will be the heart of my leadership if I’m elected in September, because I believe in the United Kingdom.
We lost Scotland over a long period of time. We lost touch with the voters, we took them for granted and I would say that we didn’t have this positive vision of a better life for all.
That’s what we have to do to win the vote in Scotland. That’s what we have to do to win again in England, and to hold the Welsh government.
I don’t think people are that different, in different parts of the country. They want something to do, somewhere to live, something to live for and someone to love. We want the same things.
I think, if you try and say, what people in Watford want is different from what people in Dundee want or Lester or Cardiff… I don’t believe that’s true.
Among other things, the Scottish Nationalist Party have called for the devolution of equality issues entirely – would you agree to that?
I am somebody who believes in devolution, getting powers and controls down as close to the people as possible – but the most important thing to me is that the powers that you have, you actually use.
That hasn’t always been the case with the SNP government in Scotland on many things – with the number of kids who go on to university or the number of places at further education colleges, they’ve actually gone backwards under the SNP.
I want to be the leader for the whole United Kingdom – the SNP want to separate the country and I think that’s wrong. There are major threats to the country, not just with what’s happening with the SNP in Scotland, but the fact that we could be pulling out of Europe. That is wrong for Britain.
David Cameron has been a weak leader on this issue and I would want to put that right.
Can you understand why people would rather see David Cameron as Prime Minister than Ed Miliband?
I understand they want a party they can trust in the economy and with their money and that speaks to them.
We were right to talk about zero-hour contracts, increasing the minimum wage, getting rid of the bedroom tax – but there are many people, they’re not on the minimum wage, they own their own home, and they want to get on in life… and we weren’t speaking for them.
That’s wrong – not just because we want to get elected, but because we want to govern for the whole country and a party wins when they speak to, with and for the whole country. That’s what we didn’t do.
From 1997, Labour won over a huge section of the LGBT community with Civil Partnerships, the Equality Act, the Gender Recognition Act and so on. But from our PinkNews polling, people are less likely to just vote on these issues – and also less likely to vote for Labour.
People by-and-large see all parties as okay on equality – the Conservatives put through same-sex marriage and the Lib Dems championed gay rights in parliament. How do you keep your appeal?
I’m not for a second going to grow complacent. The LGBT community isn’t a homogeneous group, people have different views. I plan to fight for every single vote on a whole range of issues, not just equality alone.
I’ve never been complacent – I don’t think people just naturally vote for a party, I think you have to fight for every single vote.
Do you think Gordon Brown missed a trick in 2010 when he ruled out same-sex marriage in a PinkNews interview – while both the other leaders said it was a possibility?
I’ve always championed same-sex marriage, but I think we lost the 2010 election for a whole host of reasons, many of which were the same reasons why we lost in 2015 as well.
We have to be determined to change, to make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen again.
Now we have same-sex marriage, the remaining LGBT rights issues that need to be legislated for aren’t necessarily as hugely popular with the general public – pension reform, the blood ban and so on. The Lib Dems are already making a number of pledges…
Give us a break, right? We’ve just had a terrible election defeat. We are four and a half years away from the next general election manifesto.
What I would say is, watch this space – I’m telling you what I believe and I can’t change my beliefs any more than I can change the colour of my eyes. It’s who I am, it’s what I do, and you’ll see it’s what I’ll deliver.
There are inequalities that scar the country across a range of issues. Gender, LGBT rights, race issues – and my mission would be to tackle all of those.