The 'homophobic' campaign that helped win Bermondsey

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Indy Politics

Peter Tatchell has forgiven Simon Hughes for the "homophobic" campaign run against him by the Liberal Party at the 1983 Bermondsey by-election.

Mr Tatchell, the openly gay Labour candidate in one of the dirtiest election campaigns in recent memory, said it was "time to move on", despite Mr Hughes's admission yesterday of gay affairs. He said Mr Hughes would make the best leader of the Liberal Democrats.

In 1983, Mr Hughes won a shock victory in a by-election caused by the resignation of the former Labour chief whip Bob Mellish, whose right-wing Labour allies fielded an independent candidate. They and the Liberals were accused of exploiting Mr Tatchell's homosexuality in a contest won by Mr Hughes with a swing of more than 40 per cent from Labour. He has held the south London seat ever since.

After Mr Hughes resolved to say nothing about his own sexuality, his party issued a leaflet entitled "The Straight Choice". Mr Tatchell said: "Some of their male canvassers went around the constituency wearing lapel stickers emblazoned with the words 'I've been kissed by Peter Tatchell', in a blatant bid to win the homophobic vote.

"On the doorsteps, they spread false rumours that I was chair of the local gay society; no such society existed."

Mr Tatchell said one Liberal member admitted to him that the party was behind the anonymous and illegal campaign leaflet "Which Queen Will You Vote For?", which ridiculed his sexuality and "invited local voters to have a go at me by listing my home address and phone number".

Mr Tatchell, now a member of the Green Party, said it was "ironic" that Mr Hughes had admitted he was gay. He received "information" to that effect at the time of the by-election but Labour took a decision not to retaliate.

He said Mr Hughes had always supported gay rights in parliamentary votes, so there was no contradiction between his private life and public stance.

"I don't hold grudges," Mr Tatchell said. "I don't support the Lib Dems, but if I was a member I would vote for Simon as leader. Although he lacks the radical vision of the Green Party, compared to the other leadership candidates Simon has a better record on human rights, social justice and environmental issues."

Yesterday Mr Hughes repeated a previous apology for any homophobia in his party's 1983 campaign. "I apologise for any part that I wittingly or unwittingly played. Nothing should require people to suffer the sort of abuse and indignity that he [Mr Tatchell] did in that campaign."