Alan Amos, the Tory MP who resigned his Hexham seat after being arrested in the back of a car with another man on Hampstead Heath, considered what he had done to be merely “childish and stupid”, and not enough to warrant his complete ruination, and so naturally he chided the tabloids for their “squalid reporting.”
That was his great mistake and gave the press the green light to go to town on him: “He should not try to put the blame on the Press,” said The Sun. “So far as we know, no newspaper lured him into a public haunt of homosexuals. The blame is entirely his own. And the shame.”
The Star said that it was his own choice to “wander at dusk at a place which has been turned into a no-go area for decent families by perverts practising what many people would call another dirty, dangerous and anti-social habit. His downfall must be sad for him. But he shouldn’t try to tar us with his own muck.”
The Daily Telegraph had the same opinion: “Even in a relatively liberal and sexually enlightened age, conduct that may be acceptable as long as it remains wholly private becomes intolerable when it is exposed to the public gaze. Mr Amos cannot blame his tragedy on the messengers.”
All the-same, the unctuous and sweetly innocent “messengers”” are doubtless at this very moment seeking out other closeted gay candidates for similar treatment. Indeed, it was in order to pre-empt a Sunday newspaper “expose” that Hexham’s Liberal Democrat candidate, Jonathan Wallace, decided to come out voluntarily. “I’m gay and proud of it,”” he said, but that did not spare him having to endure The Star’s “hilarious” front page headline “Hold on to Your Seat!”
All this prompted Rupert Morris to muse in The Guardian (11 Mar) about “the last taboo for a Tory MP – homosexuality.” Mr Morris was of the opinion that Hexham Conservative Association had been spineless in giving in to pressure from the tabloids: “The association should have rejected Amos’s resignation and stood by him.”
Unfortunately, in such uncertain times, a politician would have to be extremely brave to take a principled stand on homosexuality. They know the prejudices, of their voters only too well, “It’s disgusting. I’ve never heard anything like it,” one old Hexham gent is quoted as saying in The Telegraph about the gay goings on in his town. Apparently “to the old timers, the subject of homosexuality is taboo.” Mr Brian Tilley, assistant editor of the Hexham Courant said: “One old chap told me this morning that he thought (homosexuals) ought to be shot.”
In The Daily Telegraph, Elizabeth Grice asked: “Is the single man an electoral liability?” During her investigations, Ms Grice detected in local Conservative Associations “a renewed intolerance towards unmarried men (of course, for ‘unmarried men’ read ‘potential homosexuals’). It seems that all candidates are now carefully screened before they are nominated to ensure that they will not bring “scandal” into the Party. We shall never know how many able politicians this country has been denied because they were perceived by local selection committees to be gay. Never mind their abilities, think what the News of the World could make of it.
Indeed, I remember writing to Labour’s Dr Jack Cunningham last year after it was revealed that he had instructed local Labour Associations to weed out prospective candidates who might provide front-page “shame” fodder for The Sun. This seemed to refer almost exclusively to homosexuals. Cunningham didn’t reply, but I expect the policy is still in place. In effect, it means that Rupert Murdoch dictates who can be a Labour Party Candidate. And the Liberals? A small insight was given in a letter to The Daily Telegraph from Edward Bishop, who had been a Liberal candidate in an election in the early sixties. He told how he was advised to announce at a fund-raising garden fete: “I feel you would like to have a married man as your candidate, and who knows but that I will find her here today…”
Who told him to make that announcement? Why, none other than that paragon of family values, Jeremy Thorpe.
By the following Sunday there was a little more sympathy around for Amos and The Sunday Times even came up with another of its unconvincing conspiracy theories. “Members of a pro-smoking pressure group are suspected of a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign against Alan Amos … a Forest supporter claimed that private detectives had been hired to follow and investigate Amos.”
Finally, Simon Hoggart in The Observer commented that Mr Amos was “the first MP to resign in order to spend more time with total strangers.”
Now that we have the ‘sympathetic’ Mr Major in charge, is it safe once again for the conscientious lesbian or gay man to vote for the Tories? The newspapers are giving us conflicting messages. According to the Sunday Telegraph “The Prime Minister has signalled his support for equal opportunities for homosexuals, fuelling expectations of a free vote by MPs on reducing the age of consent for male homosexuals if he is returned to power.
The “signal” came in the form of nothing more than a supportive letter to the chairman of the relaunched Conservative gay association now called TORCHE. In just five lines which manage to avoid any mention of ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’ or even ‘homosexual’, Mr Major wishes the group well and hopes that it will become a valuable forum for discussion of these issues”. Mr Major speaks nobly in the Daily Express of his anger at “bigotry, prejudice and dishonesty” but, in the end, words are cheap and what he wants in relation to equal rights for gays is not necessarily what the rest of his party wants.
Indeed, many Tory colleagues violently disagree with him on this topic. The Sunday Telegraph reports that “Ministers are still nervous about alienating supporters by moving too fast on homosexual laws.”
Less mealy-mouthed is our old friend Geoffrey Dickens, Tory MP for Littleborough and Saddleworth, who is reported in The Daily Star says that he would fight any attempt at lowering the age of consent for gays “tooth and nail.” He says: “They don’t have a snowball’s hope in hell of getting this through… There is a small minority of paedophile homosexuals who want to corrupt and ensnare youngsters. They must be stopped at all costs.”
He is supported by his ever-so reasonable back bench colleague Terry Dicks who said: “Anything we can do to prevent lowering the age of consent for homosexuals will be done.”
In the Sunday Telegraph, Tory councillor CT Waring of Worcester draws attention to the newly published book that purports to debunk Kinsey’s research into homosexuality. He states – with more hope than certainty – “The truth is that the number of homosexuals is thought to be one in 100, many of whom choose to live celibate lives; not the one in 10 of popular propaganda. Many are becoming concerned at the power of this tiny minority, who seemingly have access to the highest in the land.”
In the same issue, Stuart Milson of the Tory Monday Club chides Mr Major, asking how he would feel if his own children, on their way home from school, had been picketed by ‘gay’ activists… “I wonder, too, whether Mrs Major would have approved of ‘gay’ education for her children when they were of primary school age.”
At the last election, Norman Tebbit played the anti-gay card. The Tories and their compliant press fostered the image of the Loony Left as homo-loving maniacs who poured “our” money into the pockets of lesbians and gays, the destroyers of family life.
And come polling day, their efforts paid dividends. Posters were put up all over London asking parents whether they would want their children to read books like “Young, Gay and Proud” and “How to be a Happy Homosexual” – which is what, they claimed, would happen if Labour got into power.
This time round there is a different atmosphere. The Loony Left – at least in London – has been cured and Mrs Thatcher and her sinister “Victorian values” seem like a distant memory. But the well-established myth of the Loony Left is too potent a weapon to discard completely, and in some parts of the country its piffling grants to gay causes still provides juicy headlines for right-wing rags.
“Cash for lesbians” said the Brighton Evening Argus while The Sunday Express kept the pot boiling with “Black lesbian karate group paid £500” by Newcastle Council. In Bristol, the Evening Post reported a “row” over a £1000 grant for lesbians. “Most Bristolians living ordinary lives will be out of sympathy with this kind of grant,” said the Tory leader of the council, managing to make lesbians sound like some exotic species from another world.
The Dorset Evening Echo was pleased to take the opportunity to tell its readers about “Anger at support for gay helpline” – a measly £100 and you’d think the sky was falling on Dorchester. Meanwhile, down Plymouth way, The Sunday Independent was quoting more raging Tories, objecting to another £1000 grant for a lesbian event.
Yes, indeed, the giving of “public money” to lesbians and gays still has a lot of mileage in it.