London Elections and the Queer Vote
The 2012 London Mayoral and Assembly elections take place on Thursday 3 May. The Mayoral field seems rather like Groundhog Day, with Boris Johnson (Con), Ken Livingstone (Lab) and Brian Paddick (Lib Dem) creating a strong sense of déjà vu. The main candidates may appear to offer a simple re-run of 2008 but what’s their record on LGBT issues and does that help queer voters reach a clear decision this time round?
Of course, most of us cast our vote based on a much wider spectrum of issues than just sexuality (which is doubtless as it should be) but we surely want to support a candidate who will do us the most good, or possibly the least harm. Self-preservation alone dictates that taking into account a politician’s respect for one’s sexuality will be an important deciding factor – and actions often speak louder than words in that regard.
So, let’s examine their record, starting with the incumbent Mayor, Boris Johnson.
Mayor Johnson may have appeared on London’s 2008 Pride march wearing a pink stetson but does that make him a ‘gay friendly’ politician? He rather shot himself in the foot at the Stonewall hustings in 2008 with an off-the-cuff and supposedly light-hearted response to a fellow Tory’s offensive dismissal of the principle of gay marriage by responding “If gay marriage was OK – and I was uncertain on the issue – then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men; or indeed three men and a dog.” Oh dear! But he has since committed himself and his party to gay marriage (at least in a registry office) with the pledge, “whether it’s our strong commitment to supporting marriage and civil partnerships, or our proposals for flexible parental leave which will benefit parents regardless of their sexuality, the modern Conservative Party is committed to a fairer deal for gay people across Britain.” Make your own minds up on that one!
Ken Livingstone similarly ‘mis-spoke’ recently when he told Jemima Khan, in relation to his comment about the hypocrisy of Tory MPs condemning homosexuality: “Well, the Labour ones have all come out . . . you just knew the Tory party was riddled with it like everywhere else is.” Hmm, nice choice of word, Ken! He also caused consternation with his acceptance of payment from Iranian Press TV for book reviews. Erm, this is the country that hangs gay men from lamp posts and stones ‘adulterous’ women, Ken! He also veered wildly off party lines with his support of the non-Labour candidate for the Tower Hamlets elected Mayoralty, Lutfur Rahman, who subsequently went on to win. Anyone else would have been drummed out of the party but not our Ken. As far as LGBT issues are concerned, Lutfur Rahman is not exactly renowned for his liberal views. In fact some commentators describe his aspirations for the borough as being little short of setting up a ‘Muslim Caliphate’. And talking of Muslims, Livingstone’s 2005 invitation to Egyptian-born cleric, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, to speak at City Hall was highly controversial as he had been criticised for holding anti-Semitic and homophobic views – although Livingstone did concede that he and the cleric would not see eye-to-eye on lesbian and gay issues. On the plus side, Livingstone set up the Partnerships Register in 2001, which inspired the Labour government’s Civil Partnerships Act of 2004. Ahead of the 2012 elections the Livingstone campaign team has issued the following statement: “Ken will reinstate London’s LGBT Pride annual reception at City Hall, put the Greater London Authority back into the Stonewall Employer’s Index and oppose government cuts to LGBT organisations.” Seems unequivocal enough!
Out-gay former senior Met police officer, Brian Paddick, is once again the Liberal Democrats’ candidate for Mayor of London. Following his selection he visited gay business leaders in Soho and spoke with owners of gay clubs and bars to identify what practical steps can be taken to support London’s night-time economy at a time when many people are deciding to stay at home. Issues such as Westminster’s parking changes (since scrapped), rules on licensing and community safety were also discussed. Paddick also reportedly spoke at length about how effectively the police and the community are responding to homophobic violence. Of Livingstone’s “riddled” remark Paddick said: “I think his true feelings towards LGBT people have seeped out.” It is probably fair to say, however, that apart from his being gay himself giving some reassurance as to his sympathetic stance, Paddick has to date issued few if any specific policies on LGBT issues. Well, he is a Liberal Democrat!
And finally, in the name of balance, one should mention the Green Party Mayoral candidate, Jenny Jones. There, I’ve mentioned her!