Politicians fall over themselves to court a variety of voters: the “Swing Voter” has been a prime target for decades, as more recently have religious and ethnic groups. In the last few days, it has come clear that both Labour and Tory have been focusing on the gay vote: after all, that electorate potentially counts into the millions. It was not always thus.
At the beginning of the 60s, homosexual acts were illegal: this made radio shows like Round the Horne, with its polari speaking duo of Julian and Sandy, seem that bit more edgy (although, it must be stressed, “camp” and “gay” are not necessarily the same thing). Private Eye, after the 1964 General Election, asked on its front cover “How many Pooves are there in Wilson’s Government?”, an approach that had not changed more than a decade later, when then Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe was outed by a former partner. The idea of marketing men and pollsters targeting gays was not even on the radar.
And, for the Tories at least, that was still the de facto policy as late as 1997: in Exeter, the Tory opponent of openly gay Labour candidate Ben Bradshaw told the electorate, more or less, that they should not vote for Bradshaw solely because of his sexuality. Bradshaw won with a five figure majority: this may have brought home to the Tories that, on the issue of gays, they needed a new approach. And, another decade on, they have that new approach, with David Cameron apologising for the now infamous Section 28, and giving his blessing to colleague Alan Duncan (aka The Member for Sunbed South) when the latter entered into a Civil Partnership.
So now both Labour and Tory are overtly “gay friendly”, and are both targeting the gay vote. Into this new-found area of competition was thrown last week’s grenade, in the form of a poll suggesting that the percentage of gays intending to vote Tory was higher – although the margin was a mere 1% - than across the population as a whole. Labour have deployed Ben Bradshaw, and also Harriet Harman, to allege that the Tories are, at heart, still homophobic. Alan Duncan was typically forthright in defending his party, as the BBC has reported.
But in one country which so many still think is like the UK, because they speak English, the established right of centre party is not following the Tories’ example. On today’s Andy Marr Show, guesting on the sofa was Martina Navratilova, who knows about being a citizen of the USA and dealing with homophobia. She reminded Marr that the Republican Party is not at all gay friendly: the GOP is homophobic, and proud of it.
Maybe it’s better to have a dust-up than the stance of the Republicans.