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Canaries In The Mine: Why Promoting LGBT Equality Is Good For Those Seeking To Govern

21/06/2017 13:32
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Theresa May's Tory Party isn't David Cameron's. May's 2017 manifesto continues to be much maligned. In it she made a pitch to the "mainstream". May must have thought she was sticking to the traditional script of one nation Tories. Would Cameron have shied away from such throwaway jargon? What if, as Cameron believed, the mainstream is not a homogeneous blob that can be kneaded as required, but instead to get elected individuals, as well as minorities, need to be nurtured? Cameron got it. Micro Government is as important as macro. May's inability to comprehend the need to engage on a personal level has once again been emphasised by how she has dealt with the Grenfell Tower disaster.

What Cameron did for the Conservative Party was new. For the first time the Party leadership believed in both fiscal conservatism and social liberalism and the leadership acted upon it. The axis between Cameron and Osborne (Cambornomics) - albeit supported by a Coalition Government - pushed through a liberal agenda. It's an agenda that's open to criticism: their social liberalism was never defined; and isn't fiscal conservatism coupled with social liberalism a contradiction in terms? Aren't there numerous examples where Cameron's liberal agenda simply could not flourish in Osborne's age of austerity? That said, whilst Cameron's Big Society might not have borne fruit, it was heartfelt, and if there are reasons to lament Cameron's passing, one is that he did not develop his grande idée. Brexit put an end to that.

Cameron left Britain more liberal. In that respect he shares more in common with Wilson than he does with Thatcher. Liberalism adds tone, shade and depth. Cameron changed the texture of Britain, a legacy best summed up by his allegiance to the LGBT community. His commitment to social liberalism has many sources, but amongst the LGBT community it found its expression. Cameron's evolution on LGBT rights is well documented. Once elected as an MP, to his shame he followed the Tory whip into anti-gay lobbies (voting for s.28 and an unequal age of consent). But his loyalty to the Party meant he had to change it - not vice versa. Cameron's story in forging a more liberal Britain is familiar to us all, culminating in marriage equality, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Cameron achieved equal marriage despite the Conservative Party, not because of them. Without the backing of Labour (and Cameron's Lib Dem Coalition partners) it would have failed. Most Tory MPs voted against it. Gay marriage cemented Cameron's liberal reputation. Cameron went on to win the Election in 2015, but only just. His majority was slender. He won by nabbing seats off the Lib Dems, particularly in the West Country. Lib Dem voters could trust him. After all, he was liberal; gay marriage proved that. And Cameron's Election victory was sealed.

Fast forward to the 2017 Election and a shrewd operator would have built upon Cameron's success and extended his vision, but Theresa May recoiled. Cameron and Osborne were airbrushed out and with them their short-lived experiment in fiscal conservatism and social liberalism. May's 2017 manifesto rejected Cambornomics. The liberal values that won the 2015 Election for Cameron were absent. Cameron's concern for the marginalised and dispossessed, gone.

It would be incorrect to describe May as homophobic, but her manifesto was very poor on LGBT rights. Passing concern was expressed about sexuality and transgender identity, but that's it. There are no references to gay and lesbian people. There was nothing to attract the LGBT vote, which is guestimated at 4%. May's manifesto was a far cry from Cameron's avowed commitment to gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people everywhere. For him, the criminalisation of people because they are gay across the globe offended his very essence. May made no mention of it.

Ironically, May only retains the prospect of power thanks to Ruth Davison and the cult that has grown around her as the acceptable face of Scottish conservatism. The fact that she is a lesbian enhances Davison's warm and bighearted nature. And now the inconceivable. To stay in power May's Conservatives join forces with the DUP, a party whose denial of LGBT equality feels tantamount to defamation. Does May not understand that her decision to share power with the DUP insults LGBT people everywhere?

May's lack of vision is not a badge of honour. It suited her well at the Home Office. Home Secretaries should be seen and not heard. Her lack of vision does not equip her to lead the nation. Her Government will stumble. Her mainstream will not be there to catch her. She will offend and hurt those that Cameron nurtured. For the Conservative Party to remain a long-term force in British politics, it needed Cameron and without the direction offered by him and Osborne, the Party will run out of steam. Cameron and Osborne turned the Party's fortunes round by creating a liberal agenda which persuaded many of their economic one. Their commitment to LGBT rights is the best example of how they did this. Gay rights are like canaries in the mine. Whilst the LGBT community thrived liberal Britain bloomed and so did the Tories. Cameron and Osborne knew this.

If May can hold out that long, what will the election in 2022 bring? Five years of social conservatism will have left the country stagnant, stale and insipid. And the Conservative Party will pay the price. Cameron gave the Party a chance to reinvent not only themselves but world politics. It is by no means certain that his fiscal conservatism and social liberalism would have worked, but there is no obvious successor to Cambornomics in the current Conservative Party. Does Osborne regret his decision to leave frontline politics? Could he return and reclaim these values? It is more likely that fresh-faced President Macron of France will assume that mantle. But if it is Macron who inherits Cambornomics and it transforms the fortunes of not just France, but also the EU, the Tory Party could well be doomed.

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