It’s a question that is often debated over, which party better represents and stands up for the LGBT+ community? As a Liberal Democrat, it would be remiss of me not to state my own belief that my party has the best track record. However, I have *tried*, and I think pretty successfully, to compile an objective analysis on which of the UK’s seven major parties is the best proponent of the LGBT+ equality agenda.
The crux of the ranking system for my analysis has been based around several key policies and legislative votes that have advanced the LGBT+ cause. For each topic, the party’s voting records have been recorded as a % of their parliamentary strength at the time of the debate. Parties were also rewarded if the policy appeared in their manifesto before it was enacted, a point for each year prior to its implementation. And a proportion of 10 points per topic has been allocated to each. A bonus point has been added to the party which governed at the time of the implemented policy, and a further one point has been added if there is near irrefutable evidence, that one or two of the parties led on the issue before it passed in to law. Secondly, on rare occasions, a party has forfeited a point for withholding the progression of LGBT+ rights. For example, when calculating points for the votes on the repeal of Section 28, the Conservatives were docked a point for introducing the legislation in the first place.
The topics considered were as follows;
- Legalisation of same-sex activity
- The declassification of homosexuality as an illness
- Equalisation of age of consent
- Civil partnerships
- Same-sex marriage
- Joint and step adoption for LGBT+ persons and couples
- Equal access to IVF
- Equal access to surrogacy
- Allowing LGBT+ people to serve openly in the miltary
- Declassification of Transsexualism as an illness
- Right to change legal gender
- Laws against hate speech based on sexuality and gender identity
- Anti-discrimination laws
- LGBT+ sex education
- The MSM blood donation ban
- Banning conversion therapies
- The Repeal of Section 28
- Alan Turing’s law
- Immigration equality for LGBT+ persons and couples
- Recognition of LGBT+ identity for asylum requests
Following the analysis of these issues, further points were added for each new pledge made by the seven major parties in their most recent manifesto, in this case, for the 2015 General Election. After these points were awarded, the percentage of national elected officials who identify as LGBT+ were calculated and a proportion of 10 points added to each party’s total. Finally, further considerations were made as to how much other actions by a party or their respective positions in politics were taken in to account. For instance, having an elected LGBT+ leader of any national branch of a party resulted in the rewarding of one additional point. If a party, supported other measures that disproportionately affected the LGBT+ community, they were docked up to 3 points. Finally, if a leader or senior figure of a party had brought the LGBT+ equality agenda in to disrepute by any of their actions or comments, they were docked one or two points, depending on the severity of their faux pas.
Party-by-party ranking and analysis
7. UK Independence Party
UKIP failed to score a single point on the analysis of policy, though they have only recently won parliamentary representation. Regardless, the UK’s most ardent Eurosceptic party has failed to champion any pro-LGBT+ policies in any of its manifestos. It even adopted the policy of opposing same-sex marriage because it didn’t animate the daily discourse of the nation. UKIP do however boast one out LGBT+ representative, Scottish UKIP leader and MEP David Coburn.
The main pitfalls of UKIP’s credentials for promoting LGBT+ equalities come not only from direct opposition ot pro-LGBT+ measures but also from a long string of homophobic blunders by candidates and members. Coburn himself has stated that ‘same-sex marriage breeds homophobia’. Another UKIP councillor once blamed localised flooding on the existence of homosexuals. Other gaffes included Nigel Farage calling for immigrants with HIV to be banned from entering the UK, MEP Roger Helmer supporting conversion therapies and the party’s Hastings PPC calling for “poofters to be shot”.
6. Scottish National Party
The SNP have long claimed to be on the side of LGBT+ people, and that attestation carries a lot of weight. The SNP have voted pretty much unanimously in favour of LGBT+ rights whenever the situation has presented itself. The party has supported a vast array of LGBT+ equality bills from equal access to IVF to civil partnerships and anti-discrimination laws. The SNP also boast an impressive amount of openly-LGBT representatives, with 6.72% of their membership in both Westminster houses, Holyrood and Brussels identifying as LGBT+.
However, supportive though the SNP may be on issues affecting our community, they do not appear to prioritise them. LGBT+ rights issues appear in none of their Westminster manifestos until 2015, where just one is listed – a pledge to promote rights of LGBT+ persons internationally. The Scottish Nationalists are without a doubt LGBT+ allies, but their record suggests they have much bigger priorities.
5. Conservative Party
The Conservatives’ last two leaders and the country’s last two Prime Minister’s have definitely been in the socially liberal camp of their party. Both David Cameron and Theresa May supported same-sex marriage, with the latter being heralded as a secret champion of the legislation. Former Tory MP Edwina Currie was also prevalent in equalising the age of consent, introducing a bill in 1994 which was eventually defeated by her own party and dissenting Labour members. The Conservatives also look set to implement Alan Turing’s Law in the coming weeks. The Scottish Conservative party also boast having an openly lesbian leader in Ruth Davidson.
The Conservatives, under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s hold the indignity of being the first governing party in over 100 years to introduce anti-gay legislation with the infamous passing of Section 28. The Tories also opposed an amendment, alongside the Labour Party, that would have prevented Trans people divorcing when the right to change legal gender was enacted. In general, the Tory backbenchers tend to be much more socially conservative than their media friendly leadership, as evidenced by the party’s vote against same-sex marriage in 2013. Whilst, the Tories willingly boast about the passing of same-sex marriage under a Tory-led coalition government, just two pro-LGBT+ policies appeared in their 2015 manifesto. As well as this, just 2.74% of the Tory’s massive parliamentary strength across the UK is openly LGBT+.
4. Plaid Cymru
Again, Plaid Cymru have consistently, and without exception, voted in favour of greater rights for the LGBT+ community. The Party of Wales also boasted an impressive roster of pro-LGBT+ ideas in their 2015 manifesto, with six policies ranging from improving access to Gender Identity Clinics in Wales, and overturning the MSM blood ban, an issue the party has led on. 5.88% of the party’s parliamentary and assembly representation is LGBT+.
Unfortunately for Plaid, there parliamentary presence both in Wales and Westminster, has been scant, meaning their well-intentioned brand of pro-LGBT+ politics has had little effect on the lives of our community. There is no doubting which side of the debate the party falls on, but they have often been too small a party to make a meaningful difference to LGBT+ lives.
3. Green Party
The Greens have been gaining a reputation for being the new frontier of LGBT+ politics in the UK for some years now. They were the first party to support same-sex marriage in 2001, nine years before the pledge was matched by the next major party. The Greens also boasted the joint highest number of new pledges for LGBT+ equality in 2015, with an impressive eleven new policies. These included innovative ideas to promote education access for Trans people, as well as LGBT+ specific teacher training. The Scottish Greens are jointly-led by openly-gay Patrick Harvie, who makes up 14.29% of their national legislative strength, though there are only seven Greens in office at all.
Similarly to Plaid Cymru, the Green Party have a history of being too small a party to make much of a difference. The Greens are also ideologically opposed to coalition governments, meaning they are never likely to lead the front for LGBT+ people in office. As well as this, the Greens have adopted the practice of separate LGBTQI manifestos, something many in the community rightly find patronising.
2. Labour Party
Without doubt, the Labour Party have led governments with the most changes for LGBT+ equality, including the legalisation of same-sex activity, Civil partnerships and joint and step adoption among other things. In fact, the amount of pro-LGBT+ policies that came to fruition under Labour governments compared to Conservative governments is staggering. In fact 70% of the policies analysed here happened under a Labour government. Impressively for one of the nation’s two largest parties, 4.5% of major elected Labour officials are openly LGBT+.
However, whilst there is little room to refute New Labour’s achievements, their overall record has been somewhat patchy. The Civil Partnerships legislation which Labour enacted in 2004 was actually drafted by the Liberal Democrats. The Labour government are praised for ‘paving the way’ to same-sex marriage in 2013 but the party did not champion the issue in its 2010 manifesto. Disappointingly, Labour only championed five new policies for LGBT+ people at the 2015 election, again in a segregated manifesto. Similarly, Peter Tatchell condemned the last Labour government for reneging on promises to ease asylum for LGBT+ individuals. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn must also be questioned for taking up to £20,000 from an Iranian State broadcaster, a nation where gay people are killed for their sexuality, actions he defends.
1. Liberal Democrats
Britain’s largest liberal party has a long history of supporting LGBT+ rights. The Lib Dems were the first major party to support equal age of consent, the right to change legal gender and were the first party to oppose Section 28 and the MSM blood ban. The Liberals are credited with instigating same-sex marriage in 2013, a policy they have supported since 2010, a pledge not matched by the other two main parties. This was an achievement made with just 8% of MPs, and a bill spearheaded by Lynne Featherstone. As with all of the other major progressive parties, the Lib Dems have voted strongly in favour of LGBT+ rights, and boasted an impressive eleven new LGBT+ policies in their 2015 manifesto, the joint highest.
However, the party’s role in the Coalition government led to the Lib Dems opposing some but supporting many of the Conservative’s cuts to public spending. Studies show that the austerity enacted under the Coalition government negatively impacted the LGBT+ community more than the average straight person. Similarly, there are doubts over current leader Tim Farron’s commitment to LGBT+ rights, though he never voted against same-sex marriage as widely reported, he did abstain on one reading, a decision he claims to regret. He also courted controversy for refusing to deny that he thought gay sex was ‘sinful’.
From my research in to the history of LGBT+ rights in the UK, it is my belief that there is a grey area as to who is the greatest advocate of LGBT+ policy. Labour have undoubtedly overseen the most instrumental changes for the LGBT+ community whilst in power, but it is equally agreeable that the Lib Dems have had greater success, pound for pound, and have consistently been ahead of the curve compared to Labour and the Tories. The Conservatives remain a deeply divided party, and have as much to be ashamed about as proud about when it comes to their LGBT+ rights record. The civic nationalist parties, the SNP and Plaid Cymru have both proven to be allied with the LGBT+ community but are often hindered by other priorities. The Greens are creating a reputation for being leaders for the LGBT+ community, as evidenced by their impressive future pledges. It is my belied that UKIP is the only ‘bad’ choice for LGBT+ voters, they are lagging far behind the rest.
I am confident that my points system has delivered the correct verdict, if you wish to comment, offer alternative views or systems of ranking then please share them with me! If you would like to see my workings, please e-mail me here.