Tories hope for closure as Chris Grayling apologises for anti-gay comments

The shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling apologised for the first time for expressing sympathy with bed and breakfast owners who wanted to bar gay couples from their private homes.

Mr Grayling's climbdown yesterday was approved by David Cameron, the Conservative leader, who later made it clear he hoped it would draw a line under the gay protests against the Tories for the election campaign. "Chris Grayling has apologised for what he said. It is all sorted," said Mr Cameron.

The row has threatened to damage the Conservatives' support in key marginals where they know every vote will count. By getting the apology out now, Mr Cameron is clearly anxious to defuse the row and limit the impact.

Asked on the BBC's Daily Politics show whether he regretted his remarks, Mr Grayling said: "I certainly regret causing confusion. But I was talking of the debates of some years ago. I voted for the current law and there are many people in the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats who did not."

Asked why gay voters should support the Tories, Mr Grayling said he had supported civil partnerships in Commons votes. "I have supported gay rights and will continue to do so," he added.

Last week, Labour paraded two Tory defectors, Anastasia Beaumont-Bott and David Heathcote, who cited Mr Grayling's comments among their reasons for quitting the party. Mr Grayling was accused of homophobia and senior Tories faced protests by 400 gay rights activists at Conservative Central Office with calls for Mr Grayling's sacking after a recording of remarks he made in private were leaked.

Mr Grayling said he supported the right of Christian bed and breakfast operators to turn gay couples away. It has been illegal since April 2007 for commercial accommodation providers to exclude someone based on their sexual orientation.

Mr Cameron refused to discipline Mr Grayling, but the Tories tried to repair the damage by telling gay activists they would "consider" the case for same-sex marriage rights if they win power at the election.

The shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, met the activists Peter Tatchell and Tamsin Omond with the Shadow Cabinet ministers Theresa May and Nick Herbert to answer their protests, while Mr Grayling seemed to keep his head down for a time.

In the same show, Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, also refused to give a commitment that police numbers will not fall as a result of public expenditure cuts. This appears to conflict with assurances given by Gordon Brown during the televised leaders' debate last week. Mr Brown then said: "The one thing I'm absolutely sure of – we have to maintain the number of police we have in this country."

Mr Grayling later said: "Gordon Brown has been caught out by his own Home Secretary. He mentioned his commitment to the police seven times in last week's leaders' debate, but now it turns out that he's going to cut police numbers after all."

However, Mr Grayling had also refused to make a commitment not to cut police numbers during the debate, saying: "The Home Secretary doesn't have the power to do that." The Liberal Democrat's home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne, on the other hand, did give a commitment that, under a Liberal Democrat administration, police numbers would not fall.

Highlights of the day

Mistake of the day

David Cameron and his team are having a little trouble grasping the concept of public transport. Sky News business correspondent Dharshini David tweets: "Entire Tory and media core (inc DC) warned their train tickets aren't valid on this route... 20 x penalty fares?" Lord Ashcroft will be pleased to see his money is being well spent.

Innovation of the day

A candidate in Lancashire who was bitten by a dog while out canvassing has come up with the perfect way to avoid injury. Allan Knox, Liberal Democrat candidate for the Ribble Valley seat, is using a wooden spoon to push leaflets through letter-boxes.

Overkill of the day

How many Guardian journalists does it take to write a story? Quite a few, according to the paper's writer Paul Lewis. "There a [sic] now six Guardian staffers with Clegg on a farm in Chippenham," he tweets.

Quote of the day

Gordon Brown tells car workers in Oxford that he will continue "fighting with Peter Mandelson, Ed Miliband and everybody else."

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