The Conservative Party, Chris Grayling and gay rights
After a great week today has not been the best day for the Conservative Party. The row over Chris Grayling's taped remarks about B&B owners and their right to turn away gay couples has led many broadcast bulletins and created a buzz across the internet. Most people will not be consuming news on Easter Sunday but you can be sure gay voters will hear about it. For outspoken equality activists like Peter Tatchell - and, let's not forget Green Party supporter - it's an opportunity to bash the Conservative Party's steadily improving reputation on gay rights issues.
The Shadow Home Secretary did quickly issue a corrective and unambiguous statement:
"Any suggestion that I am against gay rights is wholly wrong - it is a matter of record that I voted for civil partnerships. I also voted in favour of the legislation that prohibited bed and breakfast owners from discriminating against gay people. However, this is a difficult area and on Wednesday I made comments which reflected my view that we must be sensitive to the genuinely held principles of faith groups in this country. But the law is now clear on this issue, I am happy with it and would not wish to see it changed."
Despite this there have been calls for Mr Grayling to be sacked. In the FT, former CCHQ staffer Chris Cook, and now a leader-writer for the newspaper, argues that Mr Grayling's blood-on-the-carpet this will show the party has changed. Crazy advice. It will turn a quickly forgotten Easter Sunday story into a massive Easter Monday story about party disunity and Mr Cameron's judgment. CCHQ only has to wait 24 hours and it's 'Declaration Day'. The country won't be talking about Mr Grayling and B&Bs on the day that Brown finally, finally goes to the country.
What CCHQ must still do, however, is issue a statement positively affirming the party's position on gay rights. There's a strong story to tell:
- There's Cameron's support for his marriage tax allowance to benefit same sex partnerships.
- There's a record of promoting openly gay MPs to the frontbench and in Nick Herbert's case to the shadow cabinet.
- There's a large increase in the number of gay candidates standing for the party.
- Michael Gove is committed to tackle homosexual bullying in schools.
- In a major speech on gay rights Mr Herbert also said that a Conservative Foreign Secretary would speak out against the abuse of gay people's rights in other countries.
Gay rights groups won't get everything they want from a Conservative government but then gay rights groups don't speak for every gay person. Many gay contributors to this blog, for example, were very supportive of Shadow Justice Minister Dominic Grieve in his opposition to laws that sought to outlaw "temperate criticism of homosexuality". It is also legitimate, in a similar vein, for Conservatives to defend the freedom of faith communities to only employ people who share their historical teachings.
I remain a fan of Chris. He's a good and kind man and would readily admit he's not had the best twelve months. What he has done, however, has laid a solid foundation for a Conservative Home Secretary, whether it's him or someone else. He has codified a policy on elected police commissioners that was very 'draft' when David Davis resigned. He has turned it into a policy that will transform police accountability and produce a crime-fighting policy much more attuned to local communities' concerns. He has vowed to improve the rights of householders to protect themselves against intruders. He has struck a careful balance between civil liberties and security. And, finally - albeit too below the radar for my liking - he, with Damian Green, has formulated a very good immigration policy.