January 29, 2006
WHICH QUEEN WILL YOU VOTE FOR?:
Hands up if you think the Lib Dems have lost the plot (EDDIE BARNES AND BRIAN BRADY, 1/29/06, Scotland on Sunday)
IT MAY only be two decades ago, but the events that took place in one vicious month in south London in 1983 now feel like a lifetime away. The Labour Party, under the catastrophic leadership of Michael Foot, was in near total meltdown. That spring, the party's self-destruction was centred on the constituency of Bermondsey. Sitting Labour MP Bob Mellish, a centrist old-schooler, had quit, forced out by a hard left caucus which had taken over his constituency party. In his place, they had nominated Peter Tatchell, their openly gay secretary. For the Labour Party, it was a recipe for disaster.Posted by Orrin Judd at January 29, 2006 7:44 AM
Tatchell's campaign was doomed from the start. Bermondsey was solid old Labour, typified by its many resident dockers whose socialist views were matched by strict traditional values. Tatchell was an Australian draft-dodger - a gay, Australian draft-dodger. "An independent Labour candidate was put up against him who represented the traditional salt-of-the-earth south London dockers," recalls Jim Innes, the battle-scarred Scottish spin doctor who was brought in to the campaign team to try to salvage something from the mayhem. "That was the source of most of the vitriol."
Vitriol is hardly the word for it. Tatchell found himself being chased down side roads with his boyfriend by a reporter from the Evening Standard eager to cause embarrassment. An anonymous leaflet asking electors 'Which Queen will you vote for?', and listing Tatchell's name and address, invited people to 'have a go'. In the feverish final days of the campaign, the more committed among Tatchell's many opponents toured the streets of the constituency in vans blaring out anti-gay songs.
And over at the Liberal Party headquarters, a notorious campaign leaflet was prepared. Urging voters to back them, their pamphlet declared their candidate could be trusted as the only "straight choice". The message was more subtle than that of Tatchell's other opponents but was nevertheless clear: their candidate could be relied upon. The strategy worked - the Liberals overturned Labour's massive 17,000 majority to take the seat. They hold it to this day.
Last week, 23 years after successfully riding home on the tide of anti-gay feeling that crippled Tatchell's campaign, the candidate who pursued Tatchell all those years ago finally publicly admitted the private truth. Simon Hughes confessed that he too was gay.