It is not true to say that the Tories voted against creating an offence of homophobic hatred, as Angela Eagle alleged. They DID support the creation of an offence – in fact David Cameron stated on the floor of the House that they would do so – and as a result that part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 passed without division. So no Conservative voted against it.
The Tories did support amendments to the bill that would have inserted a ‘free speech’ clause of one sort or another. Edward Garnier tabled one at Committee stage on behalf of the front bench. Most Conservatives, on a free vote, then supported at Report stage another amendment tabled by LABOUR MP Jim Dobbin. In the House of Lords an amendment was successfully tabled by Lord Waddington. But when the bill was returned to the Commons, Labour ACCEPTED this amendment in order to get the bill on the statute book. In short, the Tories voted for creating an offence; but they voted for a free speech clause – as did Gordon Brown, Jack Straw and the Minister moving that part of the bill Maria Eagle. The argument that ‘only one Tory voted for it and that was John Bercow’ is a piece of shit-stirring, frankly – Bercow was voting with the LibDems and AGAINST Labour. At previous stages Bercow had not voted for the free speech clauses – but a handful of other Conservatives had done so too.
More recently, in the Coroners and Justice Bill, Labour are trying to remove the Waddington amendment. The Tory position is to retain the clause; Labour argue that it did not, in truth, reflect the will of the Commons.
Regardless, it is clear that the Tory position in relation to the homophobic hatred offence is that they supported it, and to say otherwise is a lie. The reason that people are free to stir up hatred against gay people is not for want of legislation but because Labour, typically, have still not actually brought this legislation into effect. Yet again, they have passed legislation largely for symbolic and strategic reasons but haven’t actually put it into law. You could argue that if Labour were serious about protecting gay people from hatred, they would implement that legislation rather than posture about it.
* I should make clear that the position I have outlined in the official Tory position on this legislation. It is not mine. I opposed this legislation as I made clear in a Telegraph column in November 2007.
Opposing this legislation is not anti-gay. Rather, it is pro freedom of speech. Such proposals would never see the light of day in the US, where freedom of speech is enshrined in the constitution. This issue makes the case better than anything else for a written constitution.
If, as is suggested by Justice Secretary Jack Straw, the burden of proof is on the accused to prove they didn't mean something in a hateful way, it will create a legal minefield. If someone calls a homosexual a ''poof", it can be meant in a number of ways, as this week's Ofcom ruling in favour of Channel 4 has shown. It can be meant in a hateful way but it can also be used as an affectionate term, believe it or not.
Having said that this legislation should be opposed by the Opposition, I have few expectations that they will do so. Tories will seek to amend the proposals but in the end political realities will dictate that they will not go into the ''no" lobby. A ''courageous" abstention will probably win the day.
UPDATE: Michael Brown writes in the Independent that he is bored with reading and writing about gay politics.