Issue 225 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 1998 Copyright © Socialist Review
'Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.' That's how the saying went - and very clever it was too - apparently hostile to Tory indifference to poverty while also pleasing the law and order brigade. What, though, are we to make of the amended version which appears to have emanated from Downing Street: 'Tough on crime, tough on the victims of crime.' For this seems to be the end result of the departure of Ron Davies.
Davies says he was doing nothing illegal on Clapham Common, but because 'I made a severe error of judgement, failing to protect my personal safety and became the "vic tim" of...a frightening and shocking crime... I explained to the prime mini ster what had occurred, apologised...offered him my resignation, which he accepted.' According to press secretary Alistair Campbell, Blair knew no more about what had transpired than the rest of us - in other words, that Davies had been robbed, held at knifepoint, and had his car stolen.
Could it just be that Davies was a little franker about the nature of his situation, and Blair just didn't like the thought of the ensuing scandal and speculation? A gay minister is one thing, but a married gay minister actually seeking sexual companionship is simply not the New Labour way, and will not sit well in the tabloid press.
Davies's evasions didn't help his cause. Nevertheless the torrent of media abuse that followed was an unbelievable cocktail of bigotry and hatred. Not a single senior New Labour voice was to be heard denouncing the bile flowing from the pages of Murdoch's papers. Not one stood up and said, 'If Ron Davies is gay or bisexual then the only sad and tragic thing about that fact is that he has had to live a lie, seek company in the shadows, and publicly repress a very important and normal part of his existence.'
'How sad,' they should have said. 'If we in New Labour can achieve little else we can certainly make it plain to all that being gay is not something anyone should feel in the slightest bit inhibited about.'
'Ron Davies', they could have added, 'has been the victim of two crimes. He has been robbed - but, much worse, he has been the victim of bigotry. We stand by him, he stays in our cabinet, and we will be unstintingly tough, on bigotry and the causes of bigotry. Murdoch's lapdogs can go to hell!' It is to the eternal shame of New Labour that it failed to do so and left Davies out to dry.
Should we be surprised? Not really. For one thing, for all their nice middle class liberalism there's a nasty moralistic streak to this bunch. Jack Straw is just about to unleash his bill on parenting, marriage and family values. For another, New Labour can once again be seen to be copying Bill Clinton.
Not Clinton's questionable frolics, you understand, but his gutless concessions to the religious and 'moral' right. One of the first betrayals of Clinton, carried out quicker than it takes to cast seed into a sink, was to go back on his promise to allow gays into the armed forces.
The right won that one without raising sweat and has, none too surprisingly, kept coming back for more. Of course there is Kenneth Starr's personal war on Clinton, but if Clinton were the only victim of his own hypocrisy and lies it would cause little concern.
He isn't though. Recently Clinton's nominee for ambassador to Lux embourg, James Hormel, was vetoed by right wing Republicans because he's gay. Trent Lott (a highly religious man, probably a direct descendent of the biblical guy whose wife was turned into a pillar of salt) led the opposition, explaining that homosexuality was a disease like 'alcoholism or kleptomania'. Well, clearly you couldn't have a falling down drunk or someone who'll nick the silver service in the ambassadorial residence in Lux embourg. Although, strangely enough, the White House has been home to more than one alcoholic, a plethora of liars and crooks, and one completely ga-ga sufferer of Alzheimer's Disease. Ah yes, but at least they didn't have sex with men, a thought so awful as to make you fear for the very future of US/Luxembourg relations.
All this could just seem absurdly funny, except that bigotry is never funny and invariably has a sharp end much more devastating than simply thwarting ministerial or ambassadorial ambitions.
The most harrowing thing about the Hormel episode is that it happened after the brutal murder of gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. Matthew was beaten to near death by two bigoted gay bashing thugs who then tied him to a fence, where he was so battered he was first mistaken for a scarecrow. He later died.
No doubt his murderers believed he was a diseased product of humanity. Where could they have got such ideas? Why, from the likes of Trent Lott and the Republican right, whose cheap verbal assaults are translated by them into murderous physical violence. From where comes the opposition to the demagoguery? Clinton, of course, denounces the murder, but not until he had first flinched at, and then given into, the verbal assaults.
Blair, Straw and their likes should hold their heads in sorrow at their desertion of Ron Davies. But more, much, much more, they should think long and hard about the fate of young Matthew Shepard before they consider giving as much as an inch to the fake and loathsome morality of the rabid right and their sewer press.