Iain Dale’s Glasshouse

Iain’s rather sceptical about Gordon’s comments to Pink News:

Gordon Brown’s Record on Gay Rights

Gordon Brown has got a nerve. In the Daily Mail today he is putting himself up as some sort of gay rights activist and supporter. But if you actually look at his voting record on gay rights issues he has carefully absented himself on each occasion the issue has been debated. More than a coincidence, I would say. Matt Wardman has helpfully provided a list of the fourteen votes Brown has missed, such is his total commitment to an equality agenda.

One could hardly doubt Iain’s own personal commitment to gay rights, of course, but nevertheless before throwing stones in Gordon’s direction he might have done well to take a look at his own party’s track record on the same set of parliamentary divisions:

TORY VOTES
DATE BILL FOR ABSENT AGAINST TOTAL MPs
22 Jun 1998 Crime and Disorder Bill [Lords] — Reduction in age at which certain sexual acts are lawful 20 34 111 165
1 Mar 1999 Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill – Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill 5 103 57 165
10 Feb 2000 Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill 10 64 91 165
5 Jul 2000 Local Government Bill [Lords] – Prohibition on promotion of homosexuality: bullying – supported retention of ban on Local Authorities ‘promoting homosexuality’ 126 40 0 166
24 Oct 2001 Relationships (Civil Registration) 4 120 42 166
29 Oct 2001 Adoption and Children Bill (Programme) — Consideration and Third Reading 0 99 67 166
16 May 2002 Adoption and Children Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] — Applications for adoption 4 50 112 166
20 May 2002 Adoption and Children Bill — [3rd Allotted Day] — Clause 131 — General interpretation, etc. – Would have allowed unmarried heterosexual couples to adopt, but not gay or lesbian couples 129 37 0 166
4 Nov 2002 Adoption and Children Bill — Suitability Of Adopters 8 38 120 166
10 March 2003 Local Government Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] — New Clause 11 — Repeal of Section 2A of Local Government Act 1986 – restricts scope for teaching young people about the facts of homosexuality in sex education (forces Christian moral context on teaching) 124 35 7 166
10 Mar 2003 Local Government Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] — New Clause 11 — Repeal of Section 2A of Local Government Act 1986 – attempt to retain ban on Local Authorities ‘promoting homosexuality’ 77 66 23 166
12 Oct 2004 Civil Partnership Bill [Lords] 38 62 66 166
9 Nov 2004 Categories of civil partners other than same sex couples – would give siblings rights to register a civil partnership 63 69 34 166
9 Nov 2004 Civil Partnerships Bill [Lords] — Schedule 28 — Consequential amendments: Scotland 39 84 43 166
19 Mar 2007 Delegated Legislation — Sexual Orientation Discrimination 29 84 85 198

Votes listed in pink (naturally) are those in which a vote for the bill/amendment would be considered pro gay rights, blue is against and the one uncoloured row is difficult to categorise one way or another as the clause in question related to provisions to allow siblings (amongst others) to register a civil partnership and gain the same legal rights as gay couples in respect of inheritances, etc – a clause that would have had the effect of inadvertently permitting incestuous relationships to be registered as civil partnerships had it been accepted – provided the couple in question kept schtum about their private activities and didn’t make them too obvious (a wedding dress and a reception would have been perhaps best avoided).

I have also added the recent vote on the Sexual Orientation regulations, on which Brown did vote (in favour) to bring things up to date.

As is clear from the table above, not once has more than a quarter of the parliamentary Tory Party turned out to vote in favour of legislation extending or enhancing gay rights over the last 10 years.

Turning now to the voting records of a number of senior Conservatives, and using the same list of Commons votes we get these results:

CAMERON HAGUE OSBORNE DAVIS
22 Jun 1998 Crime and Disorder Bill [Lords] — Reduction in age at which certain sexual acts are lawful N/A ABSENT N/A AGAINST
1 Mar 1999 Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill – Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill N/A ABSENT N/A AGAINST
10 Feb 2000 Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill N/A ABSENT N/A AGAINST
5 Jul 2000 Local Government Bill [Lords] – Prohibition on promotion of homosexuality: bullying – supported retention of ban on Local Authorities ‘promoting homosexuality’ N/A FOR N/A FOR
24 Oct 2001 Relationships (Civil Registration) ABSENT ABSENT ABSENT ABSENT
29 Oct 2001 Adoption and Children Bill (Programme) — Consideration and Third Reading ABSENT ABSENT AGAINST AGAINST
16 May 2002 Adoption and Children Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] — Applications for adoption AGAINST AGAINST AGAINT ABSENT
20 May 2002 Adoption and Children Bill — [3rd Allotted Day] — Clause 131 — General interpretation, etc. – Would have allowed unmarried heterosexual couples to adopt, but not gay or lesbian couples FOR FOR FOR FOR
4 Nov 2002 Adoption and Children Bill — Suitability Of Adopters ABSENT AGAINST ABSENT AGAINST
10 March 2003 Local Government Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] — New Clause 11 — Repeal of Section 2A of Local Government Act 1986 – restricts scope for teaching young people about the facts of homosexuality in sex education (forces Christian moral context on teaching) FOR FOR FOR FOR
10 Mar 2003 Local Government Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] — New Clause 11 — Repeal of Section 2A of Local Government Act 1986 – attempt to retain ban on Local Authorities ‘promoting homosexuality’ ABSENT FOR AGAINST FOR
12 Oct 2004 Civil Partnership Bill [Lords] FOR ABSENT FOR ABSENT
9 Nov 2004 Categories of civil partners other than same sex couples – would give siblings rights to register a civil partnership ABSENT FOR AGAINST ABSENT
9 Nov 2004 Civil Partnerships Bill [Lords] — Schedule 28 — Consequential amendments: Scotland FOR FOR FOR ABSENT
19 Mar 2007 Delegated Legislation — Sexual Orientation Discrimination FOR ABSENT FOR ABSENT

Obviously there were no votes for either Cameron or Osborne prior to 2001, when they entered parliament, and with Osborne having the slightly better record of the two on the back of having voted against a clause, tabled by Edward Leigh of the Cornerstone group, that attempted to reinstate the ‘section 28’ restrictions on the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities in full, a vote that Cameron missed – and to give Osborne his due, that makes him the only one of the two to record a vote supportive of gay rights during Iain Duncan Smith’s tenure as Tory Party leader.

In essence, therefore, its impossible to be certain whether the marked shift in voting behaviour by Cameron, in particular, is a reflection of his seeing adoption rights for gay couples and civil partnerships as two very different questions of principle or whether his voting record is tinged with political expediency linked to changes in party leadership and overall ethos.

As for the other two senior Tories listed, Hague has a consistent record of voting against gay rights, or absenting himself from votes on such issues, but for the one positive vote on Civil Partnerships, while David Davis, the man for whom Iain Dale acted as campaign manager during the most recent Tory Leadership election, mixes and matches no votes and absences on legislation supporting gay rights but can always be replied upon to show his face and wander into the aye lobby whenever there’s a vote against gay rights before the house.

One might suggest that that makes Dale and Davis a rather odd pair of bedfellows, were it not apparent that Davis would almost certainly vote against that as well on the evidence of past record.

There is, of course, much more to politics than just a single issue, still when it comes to matters as personal as one’s own sexual orientation it does seem a little incongruous to find Dale supporting a candidate for the leadership of his party – a man whom Dale would presumably have wished to become Prime Minister – with a such a poor voting record on issues that are obvious very close to his heart.

So far as making an issue of Brown’s voting record, if one actually looks at his entire record since 1997, then its clear that the real pattern that emerges is one of a senior Minister who turns out to vote in the House of Commons more or less only on legislation emanating from his own department (HM Treasury) or on those occasions where the high profile or contentious nature of a particular piece of legislation (especially amongst Labour ranks) demands a show of support from the highest levels of the party.

Over the last ten year, Brown’s overall voting record in the Commons has amounted to 16.7% of votes attended (1997-2001), 11.1% (2001-2005) and 18.6% since the 2005 general election. By way of comparison within Labour ranks, Tony Blair’s record for those periods was 8.6%, 7.5% and 9.4% of votes attended.

To add a little further perspective, David Cameron’s attendance/voting record has fallen, since becoming leader, from 66.9% to 27.4% – opposition ministers tend to have to put a bit more time into the House, anyway, in the absence of a large majority to do the job of delivering results on their behalf – while in the case of William Hague, he managed a 33.4% attendance while Tory leader from 1997-2001, which increased to 51% after he stood down, having been defeated in the 2001 general election, even with all his outside media and publishing interests to keep him occupied.

This rather limits the interpretation one can put on Brown’s voting record on gay rights, given that the size of Labour’s majority in the House of Common over the last ten yet together with the widespread and largely unequivocal support for gay rights found almost uniformly across the Parliamentary Labour Party has ensured that, in the Commons, the outcome of votes affecting gay rights have never once been in doubt. Labour’s largest ‘rebellion’ on gay rights was over the question of support for the amendment to the Adoption and Children Bill allowing unmarried heterosexual couple to adopt, but excluding homosexual couples (10 March 2003), at a time where Labour’s overall majority stood at 166 and its majority over the Tory Party at a whopping 279.

35 Labour MPs voted for that amendment, which was still defeated by 128 votes.

The problem with attacking an MP on the back of their voting record on a specific issue, given the excellent work of They Work For You and The Public Whip, in making data on parliamentary debates and vote readily accessible, is simply that one needs to be sure that you own party’s record stacks up and that you’re not in a glasshouse before you start lobbing boulders around.

UPDATE –

Iain’s left the following comment, which perhaps illustrates a bit of misunderstanding on his part stemming from his choice of source material.

The charge laid by Iain, is that Brown is somehow setting himself up as a gay rights activist and supporter, which is the impression one might well get from the Daily Mail, which opens its report as follows:

Gordon Brown has challenged David Cameron as a champion of gay rights.

The Prime Minister pledged that a new equality ‘superwatchdog’ would crack down on discrimination.

Two obvious points of note here.

First, this report is from the Daily Mail and, therefore, like most of its other output, needs to be viewed with a bullshit filter firmly in place.

Second, the Daily Mail knows its core readership pretty well and knows that ‘Gay Rights Champion’ is hardly the kind of epithet that will translate to votes in the ballot box from its readers, many whom will see a contest between Brown and Cameron for that title as a fight over the front and back seat on a way ride to hell and damnation.

So, when dealing with the Mail, its always advisable to go back to the original source, which is this Q&A with readers of Pink News:

How can members of the LGBT community be assured of your commitment to Equality when, apart from the recent ‘Goods & Services’ regulations, you have been notably absent from every other ‘Gay Equality’ Bill the Government has introduced since 1997? John Irvine

John, let me be clear: I am proud of this Government’s record on gay rights. I was brought up always to treat people equally, and that is core to what I believe.

I would like to think that my whole political life has been a fight for equality and a fairer society.

The Britain I believe in is one of fairness and opportunity for all – for me that means no one should ever feel unable to fulfil their potential whatever their race, religion or sexuality.

This Government has, as you kindly accept, improved the position of gays and lesbians in this country by removing unfair barriers and tackling discrimination.

I think this Government has made a huge amount of progress: for example, we’ve equalised the age of consent, repealed Section 28, and made it illegal to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation.

I can promise this Government will continue to do all it can to make Britain a fairer and more tolerant place.

So that’s a general statement of his belief in equality and fairness plus laudatory remarks about the government’s track record on gay rights over the last ten years, a record that does stack up and stands as probably the clearest and least equivocated progressive agenda followed by Labour over that time.

Nothing controversial or hypocritical there.

David Cameron and Tony Blair have spoken about their support for civil partnerships – why have you said nothing? What is your view? Paul Hillindon

I am very pleased, Paul, to have this opportunity to put on record my support for civil partnerships.

When I was at the Treasury we ensured equality for gay couples in the tax system, particularly inheritance tax, as part of the civil partnership legislation.

The fact is, when you are Chancellor, you tend to concentrate more on talking about the economy so there are quite a few areas of policy on which I have not said much.

Now I am in my new job, this will change – and I’m looking forward to it.

So the answer is “sorry, been a bit busy with other things but we [the Treasury] did make a policy contribution so far as the tax rights that go with civil partnerships are concerned”.

Nothing much hypocritical in that, merely a request that he be judged on his future actions as PM.

What will you be doing to help persecuted LGBT community worldwide from persecution and violence from right wing governments? What about EU countries that are hostile to gay rights? Ross Hunter

This Government has taken a lead in ending discrimination against gay and lesbian people in Britain, but as you say, Ross, the fight to counter discrimination is not restricted to the UK.

The reports we hear are deeply concerning: around the world gay and lesbian people are outlawed, persecuted and killed for advocating their rights.

We have announced an international strategy to promote rights overseas, which includes Britain’s commitment to the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality.

We are and will continue to work with foreign partners and domestic organisations to protect the human rights of gay and lesbian people throughout the world.

Much the same answer as previously – supporting gay rights is just one part of an overall approach to equality that’s running through policy, in this case a fairly standard bit of internationalist foreign policy stuff.

New Labour has pushed through much needed reforms to tackle homophobia in all areas of society, but evidently more needs to be done. What proposals do you plan to introduce to further combat this? Val

I agree with you, Val, that there is more to do, and as I’ve said I can promise this Government will continue to do all it can to make Britain a fairer and more tolerant place.

One of the areas where more needs to be done, and is being done, is to tackle homophobic bullying in schools – to ensure that children are provided with a safe educational environment free from all forms of bullying – and, where it occurs, discrimination in the workplace.

We also need to ensure the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights not only ensures that anti-discrimination laws are enforced but also, importantly, plays its full part in changing attitudes.

Again the stance is that the government is committed to equality across the board, and that includes equality for the gay community.

I wouldn’t say he’s ‘championed’ gay rights at all, just afforded them the same status, in terms of Labour policy on equality, that go for other minority groups.

All six candidates for Labour Deputy Leader agreed to a new offence of incitement to homophobic hatred – do you agree with them? Alan Stone

Alan, I believe that there is no place in twenty-first century Britain for homophobia, racism and any other form of discrimination which can destroy lives, poison communities and weaken the fabric of our national life.

There is a range of legislation already in place to protect individuals from harm, including criminal harassment, verbal abuse and incitement to violence.

In addition, we have ensured that courts impose tougher sentences for offences motivated or aggravated by the victim’s sexual orientation, unless the court gives a good reason not to.

But while safeguarding the right of individuals to live free from discrimination and abuse, we also have to respect this country’s long tradition of free speech, which this Government enshrined in the Human Rights Act.

There has to be a clear dividing line between robust debate and incitement to hate crime.

This is one of the reasons why we have brought the Serious Crime Bill before Parliament, including proposals to amend incitement law to make it easier to prove reckless encouragement of criminality.

Although the law is important, we should not neglect other ways of tackling unacceptable prejudice and extremism.

For example, we know that up to 90% of homophobic crime goes unreported because victims are too frightened and believe their story will not be believed or taken seriously.

In response, one of our key priorities is to increase reporting. When people do report, we must ensure it is taken seriously, that the incident is investigated and brought to justice.

We have set up Community Safety Units specifically to deal with hate crimes promptly and sensitively, with a Home Office hate crime strategy to improve confidence in the police while funding third-party groups to encourage reporting and help people who may feel uncomfortable about reporting directly to the authorities.

And again, the answer is ‘look, we have this set of policies in place and they apply to you as much as they do anyone else”.

This is hardly earth shattering material…

Lots of gay people who are too young to remember the last Tory government think that David Cameron is more gay-friendly than you. Does that worry you? Jen Ainslett

Well, Jen, I can assure you it isn’t true.

I think we have to remind young people of the fact that gay and lesbian people did not have equal rights in 1997 and that the changes that have since taken place did not come about by accident but because of the actions of the Labour Government.

That’s not to suggest that our party is the only one which contains politicians pressing for a fairer and more tolerant society.

But it is our party which has delivered the changes that were needed.

When I talk of building a progressive consensus, this is really what I mean: I can’t now see anyone in a mainstream political party trying to reverse the progress we have made. That’s a good thing.

And that’s your lot.

Brown states that Cameron isn’t more ‘gay-friendly’ than he is – although he doesn’t claim that Cameron is any less gay-friendly than he is either – after which is back to bigging up Labour policy over the last 10 years with the added bonus of adding, in a slightly round about way – that Cameron’s supportive attitude towards the gay community since becoming Tory leader is just proof that Labour have won the argument.

The whole thing amounts to Brown stating a generic belief in equality and then pointing out all the progress that’s been made on gay right under the Labour government over the past ten years. That hardly amounts to setting himself up as champion of gay rights or even a knock at Cameron, particularly, and it certainly fall some considerable way short of a platform to which you could reasonably pin a charge of hypocrisy.

Personally, it looks like Iain’s rather off the mark in some his comments, having been led astray by his taking the Mail’s rather melodramatic reporting at face value – unless, of course, he’d care to argue otherwise on the basis of the content of the Pink News Q&A.

  • Good work Unity…

    It’s no surprise really that Davis and Hague have anti-gay track records seeing as they’re both in the shadow cabinet purely as a sop to the right of the parliamentary party and the crypto-fascist Tory grassroots.

    It’s interesting that gay rights have become a real touch-stone for being a political progress. I suspect that this is due to a) gay rights being one of Blair’s only unambiguously positive legacies and b) a traditional arena in which politicians were completely out of step with wider social attitudes.

  • You didn’t read my post. The point I was making that Gordon Brown was putting himself up as some sort of friend of gay rights activists, when his voting record shows the opposite.

    I certainly don’t defend any of my Conservatives colleagues who have poor voting records on this subject. But then again, I don’t recall any of them pretending to be something they are not.

  • Iain:

    I’m really not sure that’s a correct assessment of Gordon’s comments. It may well be the impression given by the Daily Mail, but if you look at the Pink News article from which the Mail lifted its material, the seems little in it that would hold the charge either of Brown setting himself up as a champion of gay rights or of hypocrisy.

    It all seems a very Brown article – a general statement of personal principles and lots of talk about policy.

  • Iain :

    You’re quite right.

    We’d be far better off voting for a pack of crashing homophobes who try to keep their records quiet than someone with a more mixed record who is willing to step forward and say he’s in favour of gay rights.

    Jesus… what planet do you live on?

    I’m not particularly convinced that Brown’s a great devotee of sexual openness and tolerance but at least his record is slightly less evil than that of your former boss.

  • As Unity has shown Iain while our party has successfully over-turned Tory laws in this sphere time after time – and whether Brown as a senior officer of government is there himself is a petty and anal diversion – your party has tried to resist these changes.

    It was a VERY SILLY post and IMO for that reason it deserves every bit of derision it gets.

  • Iain, you have put yourself forward as an opponent of SOCPA. You have even promised to attend a SOCPA demonstration (and/or suggested that you would). But you have not attended a single anti-SOCPA demonstration nor taken any action that could classify you as an active opponent.

    I also recall bringing to you news of a possible hate-crime against a young gay activist that you were determined to ‘leave for me’. (As if I were begging for scraps from your table… Jebus, do you ever get up yourself much?) This determination of yours, of course, had nothing to do with the victim being a Lib-Dem or the bullies targeting him being Tories.

    But thank you for not answering this one with a simple “Oh grow up and/or get a life and/or I have more traffic than you” answer this time around.

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  • As I pointed out on Iain’s blog, Brown was almost certainly paired with a senior Tory for the votes in question.

    I’m rather annoyed at Unity – I was going to do a similar post, but he got it up faster than me and did a better job anyway.

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