On Thursday I spent an hour signing letters to Tory MPs inviting them to attend a late night "Pride Party" at a gay nightclub in Canal Street in Manchester during the Tory party conference in October. It's being organised by the Tories as yet another signal that the party is entirely at ease with sexual equality and diversity. Ten years ago the Tory Campaign for Homosexual Equality used to hold rather furtive fringe meetings in rather down-at-heel hotels, which 30 people – including a couple of MPs – might attend in a good year. Nowadays, it's rather different.
Sexuality isn't really an issue in the Tory party any longer. There are two gay members of the Shadow Cabinet, both of whom have entered civil partnerships in the last year. There are so many gay parliamentary candidates – both female and male – that no one bothers to keep count any more. And that's as it should be.
If you're a gay teacher, does it affect how you teach? If you're a gay electrician, does it affect your ability to rewire a house? Of course not. And at long last the Conservative Party has recognised that being gay should not be a bar to holding any position in politics. We have got to a point where it is quite possible to imagine Nick Herbert or Alan Duncan leading the Tory party with virtually no one raising an eyebrow. Remember, the Tories had the first Jewish-born Prime Minister and the first woman Prime Minister. I'd bet money they will also have the first gay and black PMs. Of course, not everything is perfect. There is the odd Tory MP who will no doubt rip up my letter in ill-disguised disgust, and there are no doubt a few Neanderthal types out there running local Tory associations. But you get this in all parties, not just the Tories. Homophobia certainly exists in politics, and probably always will. But the progress made over the last five years is astonishing, but our opponents have difficulty in recognising this and delight in trying to make the caricature of homophobic Tories stick.
This week the Tories set up a new group in the European Parliament which contains 15 members of the Polish Law and Justice Party. This party's record on equality issues is not exactly exemplary. Opposition politicians have been quick to accuse David Cameron of being only "skin deep" in his commitment to gay equality and ask how he can ally himself to homophobes. It's a fair question. The truth is that Labour and the LibDems also sit in Euro groupings with deeply suspect characters – some hold homophobic views, others are extreme Communists or worse. Law and Justice's lead MEP Adam Bielan responded to criticism by Denis MacShane last week by saying: "We are fully committed to human rights and equality under the law, and object to all forms of discrimination, whether on grounds of race, sex or sexual orientation." You can't get much clearer than that. But actions, of course, speak louder than words, and I will be looking at what Law & Justice do on the home front to stamp out the rampant homophobia that exists in much of Poland's society.
Bill Clinton invented the phrase "don't ask, don't tell" relating to gays in the US military. That used to be the maxim of gays in the Tory party. Nowadays it's different. The shock factor has disappeared and if anyone feels the need to announce they are gay, the declaration is treated with a massive shrug of the shoulders and a collective "so what?" As I say, that's exactly as it should be.
Iain Dale is publisher of Total Politics magazineReuse content