Tories seek to win back lesbian and gay support


THE CONSERVATIVE Party has sought to repair relations with British gays and lesbians, following polling evidence that it has lost support among them after a senior Tory proposed that bed-and-breakfast owners should be legally allowed to bar gay couples from staying in their establishments.

Several hundred gays and lesbians picketed the party’s London offices yesterday evening to protest at the remarks made recently by shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, during a meeting when he did not know that he was being recorded; while their leaders, including long-standing campaigner Peter Tatchell, met shadow chancellor, George Osborne.

An opinion poll amongst 1,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) voters, carried out by Pink News, reported that the Tories had lost five percentage points of support, with the Liberal Democrats now the favourite amongst the community.

During the meeting with Mr Thatchell, Mr Osborne said the Conservatives would “be happy” to consider legalising gay marriages if they win power on May 6th, though there were complaints afterwards that he had been “too vague”.

British civil partnership legislation offer gays and lesbians similar legal protections as married couples on pensions, social welfare, etc, but the Labour government backed away from describing the ceremonies as marriages when the legislation was passed in 2004.

The Conservatives’ popularity with gays and lesbians had earlier been damaged after party leader David Cameron bungled an interview with the Gay Timesnewspaper, when he was asked if he would give MPs and peers a free vote on gay rights issues.

“Just one difficult interview has it appears seen a significant drop in the support that the Conservative party and Mr Cameron in particular has enjoyed within the gay community,” said a Pink Newsspokesman yesterday.

Launching his campaign last week, the Tory leader caused further offence when it was learned that he had left out a scripted reference to gays in a speech where he said he was fighting the election for “the great ignored: they may be black or white, rich or poor”.

On Saturday, Mr Cameron said the Tories would change the law to clear the criminal records of those who were convicted of consensual homosexual sex in the days before it was legalised.

“We will change the law so that any past convictions for consensual homosexual sexual activities, which have since become lawful, will be treated as spent, and will not be disclosed on a criminal record check when applying for a job.

“This is a question of justice – and it’s right that we should change the law and wipe the slate clean,” said Mr Cameron, who is thought increasingly unlikely to appoint Mr Grayling home secretary if he becomes prime minister.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party, which launches its manifesto today, was embroiled in its own troubles after the discovery that it had sent 250,000 letters to women warning that Tory cancer cuts would put their lives at risk.

Many of the letters were sent to women who had undergone scans over the last few years, though health secretary Andy Burnham strongly rejected charges by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats that they had deliberately targeted cancer sufferers.

Featuring praise from a breast cancer survivor, the cards asked: “Are the Tories a change that you can afford,” and claimed that Labour’s guarantee on cancer care would be scrapped by the Tories if they won power.

Labour has categorically denied using privileged government information to target voters for electoral gain, instead pointing to sensitive polling both it and the Conservatives are using to target voters likely to be affected by one or other of the parties’ policies.