Dazzled by shiny, happy, out New Labour

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Indy Lifestyle Online
As the past year of New Labour government has surely taught even the most wilfully naive, modern politics are no longer a matter of policy, practice or plain fact but a question of perception. Not what you know but what you think you know. Or have been persuaded - perhaps even conditioned - to believe you know. This is what American masters of manipulation cynically call being "pseudo-informed". There's a lot of it about at the moment. Especially among various gay pressure groups who appear almost mystically sure that the millennium will witness Tony Blair and Jack Straw finally and fully liberating the downtrodden faggot. Equality 2000 is the name of the game and the campaign.

One understands the wish fulfilment, though not how the pseudo-informed can so casually ignore the glaringly obvious; how Home Secretary Jack "The Lad" Straw has suddenly backtracked on pre-election pledges - anti- discrimination legislation on the basis of sexual orientation has been unceremoniously dropped - and how Tony Blair, Mr Teflon'n'Teeth, has blithely broken typically solemn promises. Catch the contradiction: here is a PM presented as "regarding homophobes with the same disdain his predecessors would have reserved for homosexuals" who nevertheless kept mum during the gays-in-the-military debate and who abstained on lifting the ban when push came to vote ...

If such unpalatable truths are ignored - like the unpalatable truth that Blair and Straw are currently before the European courts, blowing millions to maintain the ban - it may be because that mythical invocation identified as the "gay community" is hypnotised by the looming free vote on the age of consent. The pseudo-informed quote Blair from the time of the previous vote - "It is the right thing to do" - and never ask why maintaining the military ban is also apparently the right thing to do. Instead, New Labour is lavishly thanked for not defending the 18-years age of consent through the European courts, when the state may have been less concerned about gay rights and more moved by the blunt legal advice that to argue that British citizens' civil rights were not being infringed was cruising for a bruising.

For the record, New Labour is against the bruising of cruisers and even those queens who merely walk on by. Indeed, on 19 February, 1997, Jack Straw explictly linked the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence with queer-bashing, as well he should: 108 gay men have been killed in the past decade and one in three gay men have been the victims of unprovoked attack. The Straw man said a hate crime is a hate crime is a hate crime: "In so many cases, in Stephen Lawrence's case, in many involving gay people, the perpetrators get away with their crimes. It is why we are committed to a strategy of zero tolerance to make the streets safe for everyone regardless of the colour of their skin or sexual preference." Off the record, last week the Government firmly declined to incorporate gay- bashing into the Crime and Disorder Bill as a hate crime comparable with racist attacks. It also added insult to multiple injuries - including gay-bashing would apparently "dilute the Bill's anti-racist message".

The news barely merited a paragraph in the press, straight or gay. Was it coincidence or smooth spin that column inches were already crammed with the mooted scrapping of Clause 28, the Tory-enacted law that prevents councils from promoting homosexuality in schools? In the era of pseudo- information it's impossible not to wonder how much New Labour's right hand knows about the doings of its left hand. Whatever, much was predictably made of the rumoured repeal - and so far without any pundit contrasting the removal of a manifestly unfair law with Jack Straw's far more immediate, and dare I say important, renouncing of vows thought to have been given in good faith. Jack, lest we forget, was the shadow minister who spoke from the heart/curried favour/worked the room (delete where appropriate) when he told the world the moving story of a gay schoolmate driven to suicide. Tea(rs) and sympathy: this is how to gain the benefit of the doubt.

This and the fond notion that Labour, Old and New, is the natural home of the homo; perhaps that's perception again as opposed to fact. As a cursory glance proves, Paddy Ashdown's "Liberal Democrat Guarantee" proposes not only an equal age of consent but further pledges laws ending discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation; gays allowed to adopt and foster; the ban against gays in the military lifted; a comprehensive review of laws relating to sexual offences, plus equal partnership rights. Measure this package against Jack Straw's recent assurances to religious leaders that an amendment would be added to the Human Rights Bill forbidding gays to marry in church, if gays are allowed to marry at all. How would Tony put it? Oh yes: "It's the right thing to do."

A noble sentiment - but deeds change the world, not sentiments. Words can fool most of the people most of the time, as can tokenism. Yet it really isn't enough that Stephen Twigg, Ben Bradshaw and Chris Smith were elected and are shiny, happy and out - Blair Babies obediently chanting the careful mantra: "I'm not a gay MP, I'm a MP who happens to be gay." If the right thing to do is the right thing to do, let's do the right thing.

A proposition: gay men should stop asking what they can do for their country and start asking what their country can do for them. Not pseudo- informed but wised up. And if that sounds cynical, that's because cynicism breeds cynicism - and it still sounds better than New Labour's weirdly successful brand of sanctimoniousness. Or perhaps it only works on minorities sadly desperate to believe, people who want to fool themselves most of the time.