GAY TIMES November 1998

Horrendous news! The Daily Mail, possibly the world’s vilest newspaper, now has Britain’s second-largest circulation, having overtaken The Mirror. Only The Sun now sells more.

In The Guardian, Decca Aitkenhead decided that the readership of The Daily Mail is mainly made up of Middle Englanders. She wrote: “Middle England has many sound virtues, but in my experience, tolerance is rarely amongst them. That is why it reads The Daily Mail.”

She goes on to say that Middle England will only accept those who play by its own rules. So “it’s OK to be gay, so long as you are in a stable relationship and do not pierce your penis. It’s OK to be black so long as you speak proper English and like Stevie Wonder. It’s OK to care about the environment as long as you buy your toiletries from the Body Shop, rather than live in a tree.”

She says that Middle Englanders have “imagination failure”. They are incapable of understanding why anyone would not want what they want.

Proof of this “imagination failure” in Middle Englanders came in The Daily Mail’s reporting of the story of a young Romanian man who has been given asylum in this country because of the persecution he would face if he returned to his native land. It demonstrated not only a lack of empathy, but a complete inability to show any human warmth or sympathy for people outside the magic, middle-class circle.

The man in question was 28-year-old Sorin Mihai, who was granted asylum by the Home Office because it believed that to deport him back to his own country would lead to him being persecuted because of his sexuality.

The Daily Mail didn’t like that at all. It has been agitating about Britain being “over- run” by foreigners for some time now, much as it did in the 1950s. In the first report on the subject, the paper enlisted MP Julian Brazier, chairman of the Conservative Family Campaign, to say: “We can offer people safe haven for being in a persecuted ethnic group or for political beliefs. I don’t think they should be offered asylum because they want to be practising homosexuals.”

Mr Mihai left Romania in 1994, at a time when same-sex relationships were totally against the law there. He says he received death threats, hate mail, and was spat at by his neighbours and arrested and assaulted by police. His family has disowned him.

A Home Office spokesperson refused to comment on individual cases, but told The Daily Mail: “A homosexual claiming persecution would have to come from a country where persecution is systematic or almost government-sponsored.”

Well, that’s Romania to a T.

Under intense pressure from the west, Romania recently changed its Draconian law, which gave almost automatic five-year prison sentences to gay people caught having sex. Now, with an age of consent of 18, gay sex is “legal” so long as it isn’t in public and doesn’t cause a “public scandal”.

The term “public scandal” can mean, of course, whatever the authorities want it to mean. If neighbours don’t like you, or if somebody wants revenge on you, they report you to the police, and “a public scandal” ensues. Then you can be sent to prison for five years.

In its report, Breaking the. Silence, Amnesty International said that torture and ill-treatment of gay people were common in Romania until quite recently. They report one victim of the regime, named loan, as saying: “I was sentenced to five years because of my homosexuality. It is terrible in jail. We were treated as if we were the most serious criminals. Everyone was treated better than homosexuals. When I was arrested, the police beat me and tortured me. In jail the torture continued, physically and emotionally. It was terrible. Even the neighbours inform the police. The police know everything about everyone.”

In another case, Doru Marian Beldie was arrested in Bucharest for a homosexual offence and was beaten by the police with truncheons on the palms of his hands and soles of his feet for several hours to make him sign a confession. He was sentenced to four and a half years.

The Daily Mail appears indifferent to this, and took up the story again on September 14th. The paper claimed that the capital city of Romania, Bucharest, has a “thriving gay scene”. It quotes Bogdan Honciuc of Accept, the gay rights group in Bucharest, as saying: “I am not saying that Romania is gay heaven but it is not gay hell either. Sorin can come home and relax… he is exaggerating a great deal if he says that he would be arrested. To say his life is in danger is not true. We can live here.”

Meanwhile, The Daily Mail’s reporter took a drive around what he called Bucharest’s “gay quarter”. There are two bars within 200 yards of each other — the Sherlock Holmes and the BU, which is a converted public lavatory. Also, there is cruising in the Opera Park nearby. This is The Mail’s idea of “a thriving gay scene”.

Mark Watson, Stonewall’s spokesman on immigration, confirms that there has been a slight improvement in Romania, but it is far from satisfactory, and pressure continues to be applied from the rest of Europe.

With typical spite, the paper seemed determined to have Sorin’s asylum rescinded and to have him sent back. It managed to get a Home Office spokesperson to say: “If evidence was produced to show deception had been used, then a case might be looked at again.”

So, with this case, The Daily Mail demonstrates what Middle England is: petty-minded, tight-arsed and (like Sorin’s squealing Romanian neighbours) routinely spiteful and malicious. Nothing gives The Mail a warmer glow than grassing up those it doesn’t like.

Matthew Norman, in The London Evening Standard, sent the whole thing up when he wrote “The granting of asylum to Sorin Mihai is shocking common sense and humanity from the Home Office… has this Government no respect for our country’s most cherished traditions at all?”

And before The Daily Mail pursues its hate campaign against refugees, it should take note of the case of Mariana Cetiner, who was given a three-year prison sentence in 1995 for alleged lesbian activity. While in prison she was ill-treated and beaten. She was released on an amnesty after serving 751 days of her sentence, and is now reported to have been granted asylum in Germany. There, the leading objectors to refugees and asylum-seekers are the neo-Nazis.

Maybe The Daily Mail should note the company it is keeping.

***

It would be unthinkable these days for any Prime Minister to be unmarried, and yet Edward Heath has managed to get through a long political career without much probing into the question: “How come you haven’t got a wife, Ted?”

Recent appearances in public do not give the impression that Mr Heath is any longer a passionate man. He sits there like a Madame Tussaud copy of himself, his face fixed and expressionless, his demeanour uncommunicative.

And yet there is one great rage in his life that we all know about — his seething hatred of Mrs Thatcher. His loathing for the now-shrivelled handbag-swinger is operatic in scale, and shows no sign of dwindling. So the great mandarin does have some feeling under that inscrutable exterior, even if it is malevolent.

His aversion to Mrs Thatcher is understandable, and shared by about 95 per cent of the population, but does it tell us anything about his feelings for women in general? The publication of his autobiography, and a television programme made to coincide with it, at last gave the newspapers legitimate cause to speculate.

The Times revealed that “A plot by Tory elders to bump Sir Edward Heath into ‘an arranged marriage’ with the celebrated concert pianist Dame Maura Lympany, while he was in office, is unmasked today.”

Apparently, the ludicrously-named Sir Tufton Beamish, who was a member of the powerful 1922 Committee of Tories, was “worried about Sir Edward’s bachelor status”. He approached Maura Lympany and said to her: “Maura, Ted must get married. Will you marry him?” She replied that if Mr Heath asked her personally, she would give the proposal serious consideration. Somehow, Ted didn’t quite get round to popping the question, and so Maura was spared the need to make the ultimate sacrifice.

In his recently published memoirs, The Course of My Life (the chapter about Mrs Thatcher is not entitled The Curse of My Life, by the way), he also intimated that he had missed the chance to marry his childhood sweetheart, Kay Raven. In the book, Mr Heath says, mysteriously, that he “knew her in so many different ways”. When she married someone else, he says, he was disappointed. “Maybe I took too much for granted,” he writes. What can it all mean?

In The Evening Standard, Andrew Billen tried to get a little further with the enigma and asked Heath whether he still gets annoyed when people ask why he never married. “I can’t stop them,” he replied, “but the TV programme was very silly. There were so many other things that we could have put into that programme. I spent 15 hours with them altogether. They became obsessed with it. I think there are a lot of things they simply don’t understand, so they can’t ask about.”

One of the things I don’t understand is that quote. What the hell does it mean? But it seems to have satisfied Andrew Billen, who wrote: “The question as to whether, despite his celibacy, Heath inclined to homosexuality, is put to rest in his memoirs by a pointed reference to a school trip to the Paris opera, during which he was distracted by ‘a delightful, fair-haired young lady’ whose shoulder straps ‘repeatedly slipped down in a most revealing fashion’.”

Meanwhile in his indiscreet diaries, serialised in The Sunday Times, we are told that the late Sir Woodrow Wyatt (who mixed only in the most exalted circles) was once at dinner with the Queen Mother when the topic turned to an artist they both knew who was unmarried and probably homosexual. “Do you think that’s true?” asks the old dear, “Lots of people say that about people who don’t get married but it isn’t always true.”

“No,” says Woodrow, “it isn’t true of Ted Heath.”

Unfortunately, he doesn’t expand on this remark, which is a shame but later on he does acknowledge that Mr Heath “doesn’t like women”. (Mr Wyatt also relates that Harold Macmillan, another Tory Prime Minister, was expelled from Eton for buggery, but that is by the by.)

Many readers will be saying: what does it matter whether Ted Heath is gay, straight or indifferent? Whose business is it, except Mr Heath’s?

Actually, it’s relevant to all of us. The reason that unmarried people are effectively debarred from the office of Prime Minister is because the political establishment does not want to risk the country being run by a homosexual. Unless we are prepared to lie, we can never attain the highest office in the land. Mr Heath, if he is gay, does us no service by keeping quiet about it.

It needs to be recorded that a gay person can hold the office of Prime Minister, and can hold it successfully.

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