Dear Ben and Chris,
I have read your attacks on the Conservative Party and its attitude to homosexuality with a mounting sense of despair. I do not believe there is anything the Conservative Party could do to stop these partisan attacks. Michael Howard apologised for Section 28, as David Cameron has done too. There are now two gay members of the Shadow Cabinet who are in civil partnerships. There are dozens of Conservatives who have been selected as parliamentary candidates and are openly gay - I know, I was the first back in 2003. Instead of concentrating on one or two recalcitrant dinosaurs in the Tory parliamentary party and alleging that a "deep strain of homophobia exists on the Tory benches" (I note you provide no evidence, just rather nasty slurs), why not celebrate the progress the Tories have made in adopting progressive policies on diversity? You know full well that the days of Section 28 are well and truly behind us. This year the Conservatives are orgainsing a Pride Night at a nightclub in Manchester's Canal Street during their conference. A decade ago there would have been a small fringe meeting in some dingy hotel attended by twenty or so conference delegates, who were attending out of a sense of duty. Along with Margot James, I am hosting this year's event. David Cameron will be there along with many of the Shadow Cabinet. I've written to Tory MPs inviting them and so far the acceptance rate is extremely high. This is not a sign of a political party which is ignoring diversity issues, or frightened of them. Indeed, I am sure if either you would like to come (and I hereby invite you) you would not only enjoy the event but be impressed by a party which has come to terms with its past on this issue, acknowledged its mistakes and apologised for them, and wants to reach out to people who, a decade ago wouldn't have even thought about supporting it.
Chris, you say you don't think Cameron is homophobic (well, that's a start) but you think that his backbenchers after the next election may force him to introduce anti-gay legislation. Well, it's nice of you to acknowledge that you're going to lose, but I am not sure whether you are making this accusation because you genuinely believe it to be true or to try to frighten gay people into making an anti Conservative vote. If it's the latter, let me assure you that you are wrong. Most of the new Tory MPs will be under 40 and have grown up in a society which is not only tolerant of gay people but embraces them. I can honestly say I know of no Tory candidate who would support, let alone initiate any move to reverse the legislation passed by Tony Blair's government on civil partnerships, age of consent or anything else to do with gay equality. Your accusation is unfair and I hope in time you will come to acknowledge that.
In my speech at my civil partnership ceremony I thanked Tony Blair for making such an event possible. Why do you both find it impossible to articulate any sort of acknowledgement of the fact that the Tories have changed? I know why. It's because it doesn't fit your leader's political narrative. What it does is show that you have now become the nasty party.
We all know that homophobes exist in all political parties and at all levels of society - just as there are racists and sexists. Yes, they all exist in the Tory Party, but you should also acknowledge that your own party has its fair share. Look at some of your own parliamentary colleagues and listen to what they say over a beer in the strangers bar of an evening. Despite many of the welcome changes to legislation your government has brought about, such atttitudes still exist. They won't be eradicated by petty political attacks such as the one you have made today. Gay people aren't stupid, yet you are both telling them that by voting Tory (as many of them have indicated they will) 'they know not what they do'. Actually, they know very well. Like the rest of society they pay mortgages, they see food prices going up, they are concerned at the huge levels of debt your government has racked up. Gay people use the health service and they see the chronic mismanagement and waste. Like everyone else they see town centres which are out of control at night through binge drinking. They are fed up with the political correctness your government encourages. They see an immigration system which is cracking under the strain and a police force which has been demoralised by the red tape you have introduced. In short they see a country crying out for change. They reject your politics of envy and politics of division. Gay people do not wish to become part of Labour's client state. In short they want change, and they see a Conservative Party which is not only ready to give it to them, but will embrace them and encourage them to play an important part in that change.
David Cameron won't patronise the gay community. He'll treat them like adults. And that's part of the reason why they are turning to the Conservatives in large numbers. It's about time you recognised that attacks such as those you have made today do great damage to your own standing and the cause of equality in general. We should try to find common cause rather than constantly to seek cheap political advantage.
UPDATE 6.30pm: Ben Bradshaw has posted a reply to this letter on LabourList HERE. He doesn't really address the issues I have raised, but there we go.