Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Attitude Check - The Leaders' Responses Part II

Yesterday I started to look at the common questions that Johann Hari posed to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown over the last three months in Attitude. I'm initially going to look at the common questions and each leaders response.

The second such question was:

Who were the first gay people you knew?

Point of information: All three leaders are of roughly the same generation, though Gordon is of course slightly older. Gordon in 59 this Saturday, David Cameron is only a few months older than Nick Clegg who recently turned 43.

That is a difficult question for me as I don't think there was a particular moment. I had a very liberal upbringing, a very open upbringing, I was lucky. I had very liberal parents, an international upbringing. I had gay friends at school and worked with gay colleagues for a long time, so there was no sort of "Eureka!" moment when I said "oh!" - it wasn't like that. I think that's in keeping for someone of my generation. I'm blind to this. My closest friend at university who I lived with, came out, but, you know, I never thought of him as "My Gay Friend". He was just Luke, my best friend, that was it.

Nick's answer is very much like most people of my sort of age. It sort of happens around you from school up. No big deal, but being able to place one time or one person is tough, but he does talk a little about one friend. It's very much a relaxed answer, spoken in a chit chat sort of way. You can tell he's at ease with the question and merely answers it.

Cameron: Openly gay? I suppose friends I made particularly after I left university. I went to the Conservative Research Department and since then [I have had] quite a lot of [gay] friends, actually. It's difficult to know sometimes, going further back.

Ouch! I have to say it that opening is something that most Attitude readers will have also cringed at, most of us may well have experienced the first person we knew who was gay was letting us in on a secret possibly, a true friend hoping you'd keep their confidence. Failing that I don't believe any one could have gone through University in the 80s without having at least one gay friend. Somehow that is just what Eton and Oxford educated Cameron seems to have done. Now they may not have been friends but surely they were known to him.

Brown: Good friends at university. I went to one of the first civil partnership ceremonies in Britain, and it was very moving. I thought - here's something that wouldn't have happened in Britain ten years ago without there being a Labour government to bring it about. It demanded such courage from the people who campaigned for it for decades and then it took legislative decisions to make it happen. It showed our country is far more tolerant that people thought - we are ready to embrace the dignity of every individual. The gay community in Britain should take credit not just for winning rights for themselves, but making our country a better country. People respect individuals more as a result of the achievements you have had. And to have changed not only your own community but also to have changed the country itself over the last ten years - it's an incredible achievement. And that message has gone out across the world, everyone can see it.

That's why I spoke out so strongly when there were moves to roll back civil partnerships in America. There are people who have made a commitment to each other and clearly loved each other, who are now faced with this idea that it is going to be rescinded. It's totally unacceptable. And that's why I'm fighting to get all the countries in Europe to recognize civil partnerships carried out in Britain. We want countries where that hasn't been the case - especially in Eastern Europe - to recognize them. We're negotiating agreements with France and then with Spain. But I think we can actually go further than that. And if we could show, in Eastern Europe as well as Western Europe, that this respect for gay people is due, that would be really important. Of course it will be tough, and it will take many years, but that has never ever been a good reason not to fight. Every single change we've delivered for equality we started off with people telling us it couldn't be done.

Brown started well with his opening four words, they answered the question in part. He carries out about going to one of the first civil partnerships. But this launches him off into a tangent, rather than talking about any of those friendships he lurches into a treatise. There is repetition from question one of key words individual, rights community/society, equality. There are all sort of abstract concepts, speaking in a general rather than a specific. Rather stilted as if learnt rather than from personal experience. Also for quite a long answer only the first four words and possibly the second sentence actually deal with answering the question. Like an examination answer or a political answer picking up a key theme and running with it in totally a different direction.

Neither Brown or Cameron come across well in this answer, Cameron stalls with his question, before working out where to go. Brown starts with the answer but in four words is off talking generalities rather than about the friends, the object of the question.

My rating of this answer:

  • Clegg 7/10
  • Cameron 3/10
  • Brown 2/10

1 comment:

  1. I think too much can be read in to these sorts of things. The fact that all three political leaders are chasing gay votes in Attitude magazine is testament enough.

    Anyone who grew up before the 1990s has probably been influenced by the anti-gay innuendo in the mainstream media (the Sun's crap in particular), and it takes a little time and maturity to shake that off...usually by simply making friends who happen to be gay.

    I think that mainstream society is now in a 'post-gay' era where an individual's sexuality and choice of partner is viewed with equal respect no matter what form it takes. Unfortunately there are pockets of homophobia in parts of society, and the epithet "gay" is probably still the insult of choice in the still some way to go. And certain traditions will persist in hostility for a long time yet, particularly where religion is involved, and this is far more difficult to reconcile.