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A blow to gay rights and a boost for Cameron’s short-termism

Posted on 27 May 2009 | 11:05am

One
of my favourite quotes about politics came from New York Governor Mario Cuomo –
‘we campaign in poetry but we govern in prose.’

Barack Obama fought one of the most wonderfully poetic campaigns and now has
to be in full-on prose mode as he struggles with war, economic meltdown and
environmental danger.

Not to mention limitations to power as he urges progressive change across
America and the world. How does anyone think Obama would vote on the question
of civil partnerships? 

He would have been there with
Tony Blair who, in a speech at the Stonewall dinner a couple of years ago,
described the introduction of civil partnerships for gay and lesbian
people as one of his proudest achievements.

TB said that day, “I
was so struck by it, it was so alive, I remember actually seeing the pictures on television. It is not often that you sort
of skip around in my job, I can assure you, But it was really the fact that
the people were so happy and the fact that you felt just one major, major
change had happened, of which everyone can feel really proud.”

It is something of which Britain should be proud and is certainly one of
many legacies of Labour in government which will be remembered for decades
to come.

Last night the pictures on television from California were not
those of joy. Not after the California Supreme Court, stocked largely by
Republican appointees, had as expected rejected the challenge to the ban on gay
marriage – Proposition 8 – voted on by the people in November.  It left millions across the state and across America in despair wondering when they will get the opportunity to
be treated equally in the eyes of the law and of society.

Yesterday’s
decision cancelled out much of what San Francisco gay rights campaigner Harvey
Milk, the subject of a brilliant recent film – and many others – worked
for. It may be years until gay Californians again have the rights already enjoyed
by the people of Iowa, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont.

But as Britain has shown, as have many other countries including
Spain where religion still defines mainstream culture, and Iceland where new
prime minister Jóh

anna Sigurðardóttir is openly gay and in a civil union,
the ‘arc of history’ that Martin Luther King spoke of, and Obama used so often
in his speeches, is on the side of equality and justice. It may have become warped in California
but elsewhere the future is bending in the right direction.

In Britain we should use this as an opportunity to reflect on what
democracy is all about. Of course it is about the power of the people but
there must be safeguards for the rights of minorities. And there must be room for clear,
strong leadership that allows the poetry of campaigns to be turned into the
prose of law which lasts, wherever public opinion may be at a given time.

David Cameron has spoken of the need for more power being given to the people
(presumably the majority). There has recently been unprecedented bashing, rightly in many cases, of
politicians.

Yet let’s remember that sometimes politicians, as they did
here with civil partnerships, get it right at a time the public might not necessarily be in
full agreement. The people of California, egged on by religious or right-wing bigots, have got it profoundly wrong.

Cameron is in full-on opportunist poet mode at the moment. How the
Guardian managed to fall for two pages and a front page lead worth yesterday
and call it the most dramatic redistribution of power in living memory is
something we will have to leave to future students of hype. But of course it
was enough for the BBC to follow in similar slavish style when the actual ideas
and proposals were thin when set alongside recent speeches by Labour ministers.

Power to people? Yeah, great Dave, cos like the people don’t much like all
this wisteria expenses fiddling that’s been going on. But how? Well, we welcome
the debate, we agree with Polly Toynbee (memo to DC from Andy Coulson – the
Guardian will run that as a pull out quote) – and we will ‘give serious
consideration’ to fixed-term Parliaments. Like we used to give serious
consideration to policy ideas on the environment until the media thought that
was a bit old hat, and expenses became the big banana.

Hilarious to read this morning, in this era when journalists are supposed to
be so spin-savvy, that Cameron ‘has been thinking for three years’ about
‘giving serious consideration’ to fixed term Parliaments. Nice one Andy.

Three years? Surely he’s decided by now. That’s almost a full fixed term, if
we had them.

The man is a top short-termist. Like he created an impression
he would be withdrawing the whip from Tories left, right and centre as moats,
horseshit and double claiming started to fall out of his closet. Impressions
that last long enough to tide him over to the next impression, when the media
bandwagon rolls on.

I have to hand it to him – he is a class spin doctor. Cameron I mean. But as a
leader on the great causes?

Where is his minimum wage equivalent, his Scottish Parliament, his help on aid
and development, his Sure Start, his Bank of England independence, his civil partnerships?

Oh, he gave them all ‘serious consideration’, once they’d been done. He’d been
giving them serious consideration for years. Apparently.

FOOTNOTE.

In 2000, when David Cameron was the Tory candidate for Witney he told
the local paper that “the Blair government continues to be obsessed with
their ‘fringe’ agenda, including deeply unpopular moves like repealing Section
28
and allowing the promotion of homosexuality in schools”, and that “Blair
has moved heaven and earth to allow the promotion of homosexuality in
schools”.

When Labour abolished Section 28 in 2003, Cameron backed a Tory
amendment which Stonewall described as “section 28 by the back
door”.  He also opposed adoption by gay couples.

  • Stu

    The issue here is that Cameron is a band wagon boy and is always the first to get on TV and make comments which he thinks will catch the popular vote. He (like all of his type) will be found out, I just hope it doesn’t take him winning the next election to let people see through him.
    As for Civil Partnerships and Gay rights – Anyone and everyone should allowed to live their lives however they feel they need- life is too short for people to have to hide and pretend. I think there are enough people with sense and compassion left in this country to not let what’s happening in California happen here.

  • James

    What a terrific blog.

    If only the design of this site matched it. It’s very difficult to share a specific blog, and why is the comment section more prominent that the blog itself?

    A unique URL to share this blog (via Facebook or email, say) would be useful too…

  • Andy Taylor

    Interesting he’s been thinking about this for 3 years… he told Andrew Marr in 2007 that fixed term parliaments were a bad idea.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/sunday_am/7032315.stm
    How odd… opportunist prick…

  • Marion

    Did anyone tell Cherie that Tony was skipping about at Stonewall?

    Oh – ok: Well Done Burnley! (that hurt)

  • gary Enefer

    Talking of TB,I watched an excellent interview with Chris Mullin at Hay-on-sky.Chris has just published his diaries of being in govt and set the record straight -TB was one of the best people to work under and was’nt lying about Iraq. There was real possibility of WMD and Saddam had been defying Un resolutions constantly.For better or for worse TB had to take a view – there was no big lie.

  • Kev CW

    What a great post! Agree 100%

    I’m less sure I agree with your last line though, Stu. In a wave of rebellion against a fictitious “political correctness gone mad” many people resort to some very bigotted beliefs…and vote for them too. I hope you’re right, I really do. But we need some strong, prose, leadership here to keep minorities interests on the agenda.

  • Tom

    James, http://www.alastaircampbell.org/blog.php?id=122 will link directly to this post (though I agree it could be easier to find that link)

  • Green Party Mike

    Didn’t Tony Blair promise a referendum on PR in 1997? That was conveniently forgotten after New Labour secured a huge majority in parliament.

  • Fed Up with Ministers who run away

    Yes, but where was the government’s defence of the Human Rights Act and an attack on Cameron for the hypocrisy of saying he wants to give power to the people when his central proposal is to allow law breakers in the executive to get away with abuses of power?

    Repealing the HRA won’t make abuses of human rights any more lawful – the convention still applies. It just means British citizens have to join a long queue in Strasbourg to enforce their rights instead of taking on the law breakers here in the UK.

    But this useless government – symbolised by the pathetic figure of Gordon Brown – says or does nothing. The Labour Party deserves better than these clowns.

  • Rita

    Short-termism is part of the problem. He is speaking to an audience with the attention spell of a gnat,many of whose opinions are formed by ‘celebrities’.
    Is there any way we can get out a snappy poster in Tory held council areas to take advantage of their call 4 change posters with the wishy washy blue? Say a red unionjack style that shows Labour would be a change- this is Local not general Election. Most people don’t know the difference. Rita

  • mary

    Ah, Tony Blair!Thanks for reminding us Alastair. Could you direct us to any comments or apologies he has made on the issue of expenses? We would love to hear from him. After all he was PM while the worst of these claims were being made.

    PS Happy birthday.

  • paul canning

    We already know how he would vote since it was a campaign promise of (I think) all Dem candidates.

    Gay marriage is another matter entirely.

    The Prop 8 decision did NOT cancel out Milk’s legacy, merely delayed marriage a wee bit. Milk’s legacy is in its inevitability (I refer you to http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/04/will-iowans-uphold-gay-marriage.html)

    Cultural change causes political change and that is Tony (and yours) real legacy and what you should be proud of. Civil partnerships constitute ‘separate but equal’ and represent the embedding of religion in state institutions.

    Completely agree on Cameron but haven’t forgotten how many pro-gay legal changes had to be dragged into adopting – just as in 1985 Kinnock had to be forced to adopt the first gay rights policy (I know, I was there).

  • Em

    Progressive change? Obama? I don’t know what the new President thinks of the California decision but he is reneging on his promise to abolish “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Gay servicemen and women who have come out in recent weeks have been told that their military careers are over. The White House has stated it has no plans to review the policy at this time. Of course, this issue has to go through Congress but “poetry” Obama had promised to do what he could so Congress would review the policy and now nothing will happen. Add to that Obama’s refusal to prosecute torturers and a myriad of sanctionings of the Bush policies… I’m calling it: the emperor is naked. President Clinton was more progressive than Obama.

    I’m not a fan of “civil partnerships” unless all marriages are to be called “civil partnerships”. There’s a “separate but equal” flair to the “gay only” nomenclature that annoys me. Of course, it is better than nothing.

    We might see it as ironic that California can’t seem to break that wall, and yet, like societies under fundamentalist Islam, American society has been regressing under that right-wing and Christian stream which has been pushing forth, more or less, since Reagan. This winner take all and moralist society is reaping what it has sowed.

    The future of Western Civilisation does not rest with a society that gives a dishonourable discharge to a twenty year pilot because of his sexual preferences. Unfortunately, if Cameron wins the next election, the advancement of civil society won’t rest with Britain either.

  • Carl Gardner

    I agree with you about civil partnerships, Alastair – in fact, I’d like to see gay marriage here and in the US. But I’m glad the California Supreme Court has ruled the way it has, because it’s not just what the law is that matters – it’s how it’s made. In all liberal democratic societies judges have power, and there’s nothing wrong with that – but if too many of the big social decisions are made by judges, democracy is diluted and people feel powerless. The US Supreme Court for instance has clearly restricted legislators’ power to enact gun control; there’s nothing US voters can do about that. Okay, I’d be pleased if the California Supreme Court had said gay marriage was protected – but equally, I’d be displeased if some other state’s courts had said gay marriage was unconstitutional and could not be legislated for. In the long run, it’s much better for the left to proceed by legislation.

  • Richard

    Nice memories… Blair is in full-on opportunist poet mode at the moment (c.1996). In 1997, the right thing was New Labour. You don’t seem to realise that (rose tinted spectacles?) that the right thing for us is NOT another 5 years of Labour. Sorry.

    Good luck for Burnley – with their excellent manager. Teach them how to cling on to the Premier League status like Gordon does to power.

  • Thomas Rossetti

    I agree with Carl Gardner, above (or is it below?). Although I’m a supporter of gay marriage, I think it’s a good thing the Californian Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8. If the law is imposed on people by a political and media “elite” it is bound to cause problems later on. People may be “wrong” but they are entitled to their opinions.

    As George Will said on “This Week with George Stephanolopoulos”, for the vast majority of young people, being gay is about as interesting as being left-handed and gay marriage is an issue that will be resolved over time.

  • William Ewart

    I don’t think opposing gay adoption is a problem for Cameron. I am gay, voted for Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell 3 times and do not think that gay men should adopt other peoples children. Great parents they may make but what about the poor kid. Get a dog.

  • Nigel Harris

    I too have been worrying about the downside of ‘handing power back to the people.’ In those circumstances, a descent into mob rule is all too easy – likely, even. As Harriet Harman discovered, the court of public opinion is hardly just. There is an enormous difference between ‘what is of interest to the public’ and ‘what is in the public interest.’ In reacting to the expenses scandal let us not allow the pendulum to swing too far.

  • Jane A

    I’ve noticed Dave has been out and about Euro-campaigning alongside a poster which says (obama-style) “Vote for change.”

    Presumably by this he means his unparalled ability to change his mind so he can float with the direction of the prevailing wind.

    Maybe more truthful would be “Vote for me if you want someone comes to a policy position after three years pondering.” Snappy.

  • Alina Palimaru

    I agree with you Alastair. Looking back to last year’s campaign against gay marriage, I was bewildered by the extensive involvement of the Mormons and their fierce advocacy for Proposition 8. This coming from a sect whose understanding of marriage is equally controversial… to say the least. Yet another example of a formerly oppressed group which, after becoming mainstream, does unto others what others used to do unto them.

  • Em

    William, I think it’s fair to say that most gay people don’t share your opinion. That “poor kids” refrain used to be heard with regards to inter-racial couples and their children.

    I haven’t seen any evidence to demonstrate that children of gay couples fare badly.

  • christine higginbottom

    Dear Alistair,
    Blackpool Council are to “improve” Mental Health Day Services, which will affect the day care of my severely ill son and many others at his day centre, and another in this town. My son Peter attends New Directions Day Centre, the other centre is Mind.

    Would you be interested in lending your support to the blackpool day centres, before the council dismantle them?

    Thank you, Christine.

  • Fugitive Ink

    As a Tory, although I genuinely admire your obviously very real commitment to improving public understanding of mental health issues, I disagree with you on everything from Martin McGuinness to private education, although you’re right about civil partnerships as well as Madame Bovary, and you’re incidentally a much better prose stylist than anyone ever accepts.

    You’re also a natural blogger – funny, bad-tempered, human – which is why I keep coming back. And your analysis of David Cameron’s recent Guardian piece is sheer brilliance. It’s all there – Cameron’s rather transparent if rapidly-shifting opportunism, the lame compliance of the media, your realistic view that there’s good in politics as well as all the rather predictable human fallibility, even the implication that it’s possible to pursue goals as a matter of conviction rather than short-term cynicism. The implications of this are as serious for Tories as they are for everyone else out there.

    (Boring point, finally – do consider sorting out this site so it’s possible to link to individual blog posts, won’t you?)

  • gary Enefer

    Umm,nice to hear from Jane A again.

    Why did you block me suddenly on twitter at the mention of mental health?

  • gary Enefer

    Em

    love to follow you on twitter and you follow me. I have made some nice friends from Alastairs blog. I ought to point out that Jane A blocked me after I aske her a question. I can say, however, that she overeacted as I sent my frIends the same request and they replied as one would.

    I love and send best wishes to Jane A – just want her back – please come back Jane A and please follow me Em – both of your work is beautiful.

    I answer to no one. I have no boss. I am financially independent. I invite you if you want to

  • Jane A

    @Gary
    In the hope this answers your question, I didn’t block you after you asked me one question on mental health. Those who know me know I talk long and hard about mental health as well as it being my job. I blocked you after you sent me six messages in five minutes early one morning on all manner of subjects. It was a little over the top. Can we leave it at that?

  • Wilma Proops

    Since being released from a Moscow stalag for my “alternative” demonstration in Red Square pre Euro-Vision, I’ve been promoting a campaign to Post Pink Pants to the city’s homophobic Mayor. Your blog entitled “A blow to gay rights and a boost for Cameron’s short-termism” had me thinking “I might as well expand this campaign – there are homophobes everywhere who could do with a pair”. With this in mind, could you recommend the person in California, most in need of this peaceful message? Do you think Cameron could do with a pair? Who in the BNP or UKIP might not enjoy them? I’d very much appreciate your advice…

    Should anyone reading this need further information on my work, embarrassing past and the celebrities I attempt to advise – please Google Wilma Proops Pink Pants.