22 Jun 2008

Serves You Right in Political Life

Stonewall have just produced a report Serves Your Right – Lesbian and Gay Peoples expectations of Discrimination. In December 2007 they commissioned YouGov to survey a sample of 1,658 lesbian, gay and bisexual people across Britain. They open the report with a quote from Alan Johnson Secretary of State for Health;

“Genuine equality will not be achieved by providing the same service for everyone; equality of opportunity is not enough. It means delivering the same outcome for everyone, recognising the diverse needs of different communities and individuals and responding appropriately to those needs.” (19 February 2008)

In 2008 there are no openly gay or lesbian people in the British cabinet, the Scottish cabinet or the Welsh cabinet. There are only two openly gay peers in the House of Lords out of more than 700 members and only one openly lesbian MP in the House of Commons and no Lesbian peers in the Lords. There are no out Trans politicians or anyone who is open about being bisexual.

The report states that despite modest efforts by some political parties, the majority of lesbian and gay people expect to experience discrimination if they seek selection by a political party to run for parliament. Nearly nine in ten lesbian and gay people think they would face barriers from the Conservative Party; six in ten think they would face barriers from the Labour Party and nearly half expect to face barriers if they sought selection from the Liberal Democrats. Women are more likely to think this: two thirds of lesbians expect to be discriminated against if they wanted to be selected by the Labour Party.

The report also claims that political parties have even failed to convince their own lesbian and gay supporters that they can play a full role in political life with significant numbers expecting to face discrimination should they seek selection as a parliamentary candidate. The Conservative Party is regarded least favourably out of the main parties with seven out often lesbian and gay party supporters expecting barriers to selection. Stonewall though claim that, nearly half of Labour supporters say they would also expect problems from their party getting selected along with three in ten Liberal Democrats.

Living Together, a YouGov survey of more than 2000 adults commissioned by Stonewall in October 2006, found that nearly nine in ten voters would be ‘comfortable’ if their MP was lesbian or gay, yet more than half felt that lesbian and gay people were likely to conceal their sexual orientation in politics.

Local politics is little better. Lesbian and gay people expect to face similar barriers if they want to be selected to run as local councillors. Nearly two thirds would expect to face barriers from the Labour Party, nearly nine in ten would expect to face barriers from the Conservative Party, and half would expect to encounter barriers from the Liberal Democrats.

The report also gives examples of homophobia endemic in politics citing the incident during the 2005 General Election campaign, when Sayeeda Warsi, the Conservative candidate for Dewsbury, published campaign materials saying that the equalisation of the age of consent had allowed “school children to be propositioned for homosexual relationships”. They also use the example of Miranda Grell, a Labour candidate for the Leyton Ward in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, who as we know was convicted under the Representation of the People Act (1989) on two counts of making false statements about another candidate to gain electoral advantage. Grell was accused of telling one prospective voter that her opponent, Cllr Barry Smith, a gay man in a civil partnership, was a paedophile who had a 16 year old boyfriend. Mr Smith’s partner is 39. Mr Smith was subsequently abused in the street for being a paedophile.

Stonewall have made various recommendations as a result of their report:
  • Political parties should actively encourage lesbianand gay people to become MPs, MSPs, AMs and local councillors. Similar initiatives should be put in place for lesbian and gay people to those already in place for women and ethnic minorities.
  • The Electoral Commission should encourage registered political parties to abide by a code of conduct prohibiting campaigning based on discriminatory attitudes to sexual orientation, race, disability, gender or gender identity, belief or age.
  • Political parties should state that they will deselect any candidates who engage in homophobic campaigning.
  • Local political parties should engage with their gay constituents to encourage lesbian and gay people to participate in the political process.
  • Political parties should take measures consistent with their own rules and political philosophies to encourage lesbian and gay members to stand as candidates and to help them win selection.
  • Government, with the support of all political parties, should appoint more lesbian and gay people, on merit, to public office and the House of Lords and so enable gay people to become more visible in public life.

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