Tories accused of hypocrisy as they seek the gay vote

Party's proposed 'blueprint for the family' signals a return to Back to Basics policies, critics claim

A row over homophobia in politics escalated last night as the Conservative leader, David Cameron, was accused of pushing "Victorian values" on to the 21st-century concept of the family.

Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, accused the Tories of "hypocritical moralising" for putting forward plans to support traditional family values and make divorce more difficult.

A bitter debate about which political party has the right to claim the "pink vote" overshadowed Gay Pride yesterday, when up to a million people marched through the capital.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, stoked the row by criticising the "fierce opposition" to gay rights legislation by the Conservatives in Parliament, even though Mr Cameron has backed some of the measures. He became the fifth minister to claim that Labour was winning the battle for Britain's three million gay votes by declaring that the Government had led the way on overturning homophobic legislation such as Section 28.

His remarks came as it emerged that the Conservatives are considering a raft of "family values" policies which critics said had echoes of the ill-fated "Back to Basics" campaign of the John Major government.

A review by the former leader Iain Duncan Smith on behalf of Mr Cameron, hailed as a "Tory blueprint for the family", proposed tax breaks for married couples and laws to make divorce more difficult.

Ms Harman, who is also Equalities Minister, told The Independent on Sunday: "Families won't want to be lectured by anybody, whether in the Cabinet or the shadow Cabinet, about how to lead their lives, especially as politicians haven't proved themselves more likely to stay married than the rest of the population.

"Practical help is what is needed for families, not hypocritical moralising."

On the issue of allegations of homophobia in politics, Ms Harman said: "I would be more than happy for the question of gay rights to be not a political issue at all. No one wants to see prejudice in schools and children being homophobically bullied. But there is still a drag anchor in the Tory party which has not changed."

Mr Duncan Smith's plans did not appear to cover same-sex civil partnerships. However, Mr Cameron has indicated that an existing Tory commitment for tax breaks for married couples will cover gay marriages.

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said last night: " On a weekend where they are trying to be the great friends of the gay community, the Tories are also trying to be the great advocates of the traditional Victorian family values. This is not so much Back to Basics, more them trying to have their cake and eating it."

Denis MacShane, the Labour former minister, said: "David Cameron has a real problem with modern relationships as he panders to those who want to imprison women in loveless marriages by making divorce more difficult while claiming he is pro-gay.

"Cameron is getting into bed with gay-bashing European parties in the European Parliament while saying he is pro-gay in Notting Hill. He wants to appease his traditional right and hope no one notices his forked tongue. It is undignified politics."

The row began last week when Mr Cameron apologised for his party's introduction of Section 28, the law that banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools, sparking criticism from two gay ministers.

Ben Bradshaw, the Culture Secretary, triggered controversy by saying that a "deep strain of homophobia still exists on the Conservative benches", while the Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant said: "If gays vote Tory, they will rue the day very soon."

The Tory leader voted in 2003 for the retention of Section 28, but has voted in favour of other gay rights legislation. Angela Eagle, the Pensions minister, said he was one of only 29 Tories to vote in favour of equality in goods and services.

Alan Duncan, one of two openly gay members of the shadow Cabinet, said yesterday that the comments by Mr Bradshaw and Mr Bryant were "scurrilous".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Carer / Support Worker plus Bank Support

£10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A delightful, 11 year old boy who lives in t...

Recruitment Genius: Office Furniture Installer / Driver

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Furniture Installer /...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - North West - OTE £40k

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Ashdown Group: SQL DBA - Croydon - up to £65,000

£58000 - £65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL DBA - Bromley, South East London...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor