16:13 | 18th February 2019

Blogroll: Political Watch

Is Gordon Brown scared of the gay vote?

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You may recall I recently explored whether David Cameron's commitment to LGBT rights was a Damascene conversion in his quest to be elected, or whether he was really a true believer. In the interests of balance, I thought I'd look at the other party leaders, starting with the man who is vying with Cameron to be the next Prime Minister.

Labour, and particularly New Labour, have always positioned themselves as the party of minority rights. So I was expecting, when I trawled through Gordon Brown's voting record, to find the main the party has chosen as leader to have a perfect record. That "tick" would have made for a reassuring, if short article. I say would, as Hansard shows a man who is at best uncomfortable with LGBT issues, and at worst doesn't agree with his party's desire to champion them at all.

Unlike David Cameron's voting record on LGBT bills, that confuses even him, Gordon Brown's is pretty clear in part.

For the last two significant pieces of legislation (the Equality Act and the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill) he has supported the policy and voted with New Labour.

However go back any further than these two bills and you will see that there is a gaping hole. For every single other bill on LGBT issues (going back to 1997) Gordon Brown was absent; he did not vote either way. Our current Prime Minister avoided voting on the age of consent, on civil partnerships, on adoption and on whether homosexual bullying could be discussed in the classroom.

For a man who has only ever rebelled against the government on one single bill (whether the House of Lords should be 80% elected) this is quite a strong statement. A few absences can be explained away; he told Attitude Magazine in a 2009 interview that he had probably been busy with Treasury business when the votes were taking place but added: "I've always given my strong support." . But abstaining from so many votes sends quite a signal that Mr Brown was unwilling or uncomfortable supporting the bills and didnt feel able to vote against them. In parliament, where not voting is recorded, being absent can be equivalent of spoiling one's ballot.

Gordon Brown's sexuality has long been a subject for speculation going back to his university days. There are rumours he chaired the LGBT network at his university and there are loud whispers from senior union figures. Indeed there was a mix of fascination and outrage in 1996 when the usually sedate Desert Island Disc's host Sue Lawley decided to spice the show up by asking Gordon is he was gay. He is now married to a woman, and frankly I don't think there is any point in continuing to speculate on his sexuality, however it does make me wonder whether his reluctance to vote was a consequence of his own troubled feelings.

Gordon Brown's recent record clearly shows that he is trying. Can his change in voting habits can be ascribed to the influence of his highly PR-savvy wife Sarah; the beau of this year's Pride London Parade? But as the Mick Jagger song tells us old habits die hard.


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