Baroness Knight, the Tory peer and opponent of same-sex marriage who caused a stir this week by saying that gays were “good at antiques” is not remotely bothered by the fuss her remarks caused.
It means nothing to her that people have attacked her on the social media, because inventions like the mobile phone and the internet have barely impinged on her consciousness. As for a freesheet given out on London’s streets which excoriated her – she has never heard of it.
“One newspaper pilloried me for saying that homosexuals are artistic people, they’re very loving people – well, I was only saying what I believe, from my own homosexual friends,” she told The Independent. But are gays really “good at antiques”? “Oh, they’re wonderful, wonderful,” she replied. Does she know many antique dealers? “Several.” And are they all gay? “I know two that were, yes. It’s not a question that seems to me to be my business to ask.
“Three people coming in this morning said ‘You’ve got to see the papers’. ‘Which papers?’ I said. ‘The Metro,’ they said. I said: ‘Where the dickens do you get the Metro?’ ‘The Tube,’ they said. I said: ‘But I’m not going on the Tube.’ So I don’t know what they wrote. I expect it was very rude.”
One of the legacies of Jill Knight’s 26 years as a Tory MP was Clause 28, which banned local councils from promoting homosexuality, and set off a nationwide reaction, eventually leading to a public apology from David Cameron. She makes no apology. She insists that she was driven solely by a concern to protect children’s innocence. Cameron’s apology, in her mind, shows he wasn’t paying attention.
She takes a similar view of the Prime Minister’s decision to debar a Tory candidate in the Midlands for saying “Enoch was right” – referring to the notorious “rivers of blood” speech delivered in 1968 by the Wolverhampton MP, Enoch Powell, who wanted immigrants from Asia and the Caribbean returned to their countries of origin. “I knew Enoch extremely well and had a very great deal of respect for Enoch,” she said. “I was on the Select Committee looking at immigration at that time. I know that a lot of immigrants wanted to go back home. He didn’t incite violence, he didn’t say he was going to cause blood on the streets, he said that there will be blood on the streets because people will get so angry.”
There is substance to the charge that Baroness Knight is a throwback to a previous century. Her exact age has flummoxed a few researchers. Her Who’s Who entry does not give a date of birth. Debretts gives it as 1927. Wikipedia says 1924. A 1984 edition of Roth’s Parliamentary Profiles says 1923, though the compliers noted “Mrs Knight now claims 1927.”
The correct date is 9 July 1923: she is a month short of her 90th birthday. She attributes the confusion to an error by one her staff who filled in a questionnaire when she was away on a parliamentary trip, decades ago, and knocked four years off her age.
When she was growing up, girls were told nothing about sex and were expected to be virgins until their wedding nights. Abortion and male homosexuality were criminal offences when she arrived in the Commons in 1966, as Conservative MP for Birmingham Edgbaston. Her ambition is to carry on at least until 2016, when she will be able to claim to be the first woman to have done 50 years active service in the two houses of Parliament.
Her pronouncements on abortion suggest she would think it an improvement if the law returned to where it was 46 years ago. “Abortion today is hardly necessary because contraception has never been so available, and so good, and so cheap,” she said. “There were reasons why a woman should have an abortion, but I do think it is too easily available.
“Nobody sat down and told me about sex. They didn’t in those days, but you gradually gathered that it’s something to do with going to bed. I had never gone to bed with anyone when I got married, and in a funny sort of way I think our ignorance helped us. In a way, it gave us protection. It’s a silly view to hold now, but I’m only trying to tell you the truth as I saw it.”