A Marriage Of Convenience: Compassionate Conservatives, LGBT people & the cutsPosted: December 14, 2012 | |
[First published in The Morning Star, 15/12/2012. However being cisgendered and straight I’d ultimately prefer you go follow Queer Resistance or the excellent Zoe Stavvers instead.]
God bless Maria Miller, David Cameron must have been thinking this week. It should have been a lazy winding-down for the winter recess, but this month has already seen Lord Justice Leveson back the Tories into a corner on even the most basic measures of press regulation. Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn statement on the economy looked more like a nuclear winter. And tax-dodger Starbucks’ breathtaking bid to pay its way to an Indulgence couldn’t have been more ill-timed, coming just days after Gideon Quixote slashed corporation tax again to just 21 percent.
But just when his front bench were looking the very model of cronyism and incompetence, in sweeps culture secretary Maria Miller bearing aloft her same-sex marriage bill and the ragged banner of Compassionate Conservatism.
From a tactical perspective, the bill couldn’t be better: human rights (typically a sore point with this government), a solid majority with the opposition lending a bipartisan air, even a few crusty bigots openly rebelling on the back benches to blacken every box in the swing-voting liberal’s bingo card.
And Ms Miller herself rose to the occasion, pleading that she wanted “fairness to be at the heart of the proposals”.
“In each century parliament has acted – sometimes radically – to ensure that marriage reflects our society to keep it relevant and meaningful.
“Marriage is not static; it has evolved and parliament has chosen to act over the centuries to make it fairer and more equal.
“We now face another such moment – another such chance in this new century.”
None of this should be taken as denigrating the desire for same-sex marriage. The extension of equal protections and equal rights to all people under the law is itself the foundation for the rule of law.
But at the same time marriage is not, contrary to mainstream media coverage, the be-all and end-all of social justice for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. And in fact, the coalition’s response to the LGBT community’s more material needs has been downright heartless.
Just take for instance the quietly resurrected plans to drop under-25s from housing benefits: a plan that the Morning Star has already shown would lead to tens of thousands more young people becoming homeless. The coalition’s cold logic is that young people can just move back in with their parents. But for many LGBT people it just isn’t that simple: homophobia is often what caused them to leave home in the first place. It’s no coincidence that a 2005 study by the charity Crisis found as many as 30 percent of homeless youth in urban areas are LGBT. What Cameron and his compassionate Conservatives have proposed would place even more LGBT people at risk of homelessness and every injury it entails: physical and mental illness, assaults and sexual exploitation and slow starvation.
Of course the Tories beg to differ. To quote work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith this week: “If we were ever to implement a policy like this, we would have to take into consideration those categories that may find it incredibly difficult.”
But yet again, IDS and his ilk are hamstrung by their track record. Just look at David Cameron’s speech last month to the CBI lobby group — the one in which he dismissed equality impact assessments and public consultations as “bureaucratic nonsense”.
“I care about making sure we treat people equally. But let’s have the courage to say it – caring about these things does not have to mean churning out reams of bureaucratic nonsense.
“We have smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy. We don’t need all this extra tick-box stuff,” he said.
The PM went on to tell civil servants “if there is no need for a consultation, don’t have one” and lambasted a “massive growth industry” of judicial reviews, vowing to make it harder and more expensive to bring claims “so people think twice about time-wasting”. Many, he said, were “completely pointless”.
But London’s LGBT charities would likely disagree. Last February they won a judicial review of London Councils’ decision to slash £500,000 in funding for organisations like theirs, ranging from Broken Rainbow’s helpline for victims of same-sex domestic violence, to the Albert Kennedy Trust for homeless LGBT youth, to Galop’s support for victims of hate crimes. The court found London Councils’ grants committee had not met its duty to consult or to assess the impact of its cuts — the very things Cameron rails against, shown to directly protect the LGBT community.
It’s worth mentioning that Labour councillors control the grants committee, proving both parties capable of lip service to LGBT needs. But it’s equally worth mentioning that scandalous cuts like these are pushed up and down the country as a direct result of Con-Dem cuts putting local authority budgets in less of a squeeze and more of a death-grip.
And yet we’ve barely scraped the surface of what LGBT people have suffered. There’s the Pan London HIV Prevention Programme, which last year lost an outrageous 43 percent of its NHS funding despite diagnoses doubling over the last decade. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission is facing a budget cut of around two-thirds, with half its workforce and its entire network of regional offices under threat. There’s the BBC’s decision in June to dump LGBT Citizen Manchester, the only LGBT-interest programme on its entire radio network. And the list goes on and on and on.
Compassionate Conservatives can gab all they want about “fairness”. But when it comes to wedding oneself to real social justice, they’re all runaway brides.