The Tories’ recent attempts at wooing the LGBTQ community shouldn’t fool anyone into thinking that the party can address LGBTQ liberation in any meaningful way. Gay rights campaigners who have taken to schmoozing the right, in expectation of a Conservative victory in the coming election, have clearly lost sight of the rights of the people they claim to represent.
The last Tory government made no secret about its social conservatism; Major and Thatcher’s backlash against the “permissiveness” of the sexual liberation movements of the 1970s, 80s and 90s should not be forgotten. A government that saw the legalisation of abortion, homosexuality, free contraception and sexual health provision as contradictory to the “morality” of British society characterised the Conservatives as much as its crushing of the unions. It has not abandoned this stance.
The act that best summarised the Tory attitude to gay rights was Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act. The act stated that no local authority “shall intentionally promote homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.
The Labour government did not repeal the Act till as late as 2003. Cameron voted against the repeal. Cameron’s 2009 apology for the implementation of the act on behalf of his party simply testified to his party’s hypocrisy on this issue.
The Conservatives’ proposal to replace the 1998 Human Rights Act with a “British Bill of Rights” demonstrates an ongoing indifference to civil liberties. In this case, in the name of protecting “national security”.
Tory MPs and MEPs are given “free votes” on issues of equality. In Britain this means votes against repeals of homophobic laws such as Section 28, abortion rights, and civil partnerships; and in Europe against condemnation of similar homophobic laws, such as those on education in Lithuania.
The Conservatives’ attitude to human rights has not been to consider them as fundamental values to society, but as bureaucratic “red tape”, threatening further state authoritarianism. A handful of “openly” gay MPs and empty gestures to the LGBTQ vote are not enough to overcome a century of queer-bashing which its MPs and European party alliances continue to maintain.
The Human Rights Act doesn’t just protect the individual from discrimination in the workplace and on the street, but protects individuals’ rights to such things as the right to join unions — organisations essential for the enforcement of equal opportunities legislation. Trade unions don’t just fight against redundancies, conditions and wage cuts for the “majorities” within their workforce, they defend the legal rights of workers where it is not in the employer’s interest to do so, and address the grievances of minorities in a collective manner that gives them real force in winning battles against their bosses.
The Tories and Liberal Democrats both promise to increase legislation against union powers, but all attacks on unions strip the ability of workers to enforce their demands for equality on their own terms, in effect depriving equal opportunities legislation of any meaningful implementation.
As part of their affiliation to far-right European Parties in the European Conservative and Reformist Coalition established last year, the Tories have connected themselves ideologically with parties with the worst record of racism, sexism, anti-semitism and homophobia, and voted for their policies in the European Parliament.
Parties such as the Danish People’s Party (DPP) advocate drastic reductions in immigration. The DPP targets “multiculturalism” and the “Islamisation” of Denmark as a pressing threat to national security. One of the Dutch members of the coalition, the Christian Union, proposes the “phasing out” of abortion rights, aggressive combating of pornography and sex work, defends religious schools, and gives civil servants the freedom to avoid performing same-sex marriages.
The Latvian “For Fatherland and Freedom” party periodically celebrates the efforts of the Waffen-SS and has failed to criticise Nazi offences. The leader of the Czech coalition member Civil Democratic Party, Mirek Topolanek, was forced to resign last month for making homophobic and anti-semitic comments about the Polish PM and Minister for Transport.
Most notorious of this party coalition in terms of LGBTQ rights is the Polish Law and Justice Party. It opposes all forms of legal representation for homosexuals, a stance best summarised by the declaration made by the ex Polish Prime Minister and chair of the party Jaroslaw Kaczynski: “The affirmation of homosexuality will lead to the downfall of civilisation. We can’t agree to it.”
Social conservatism does not emerge from ignorance alone; it is a “moral code” that glosses over real socio-economic problems to the benefit of those who can afford to buy their way out of them.
Homosexuality is not a new component of Tory membership, but it is only very recently that gay rights was considered anything but a suitable scapegoat for initiatives such as the current “Mending Our Broken Society”.
The Conservatives continue to blame the move away from “traditional” family structures, and immigration for the problems caused by aggressive capitalism. They base their social policy around reinforcing these structures and “disciplining” or “rewarding” families for their adherence to these, while ignoring the oppressions that go with them.