There isn’t the media attention on the work of the European Parliament and our MEPs that there is on Westminster, which allows the homophobic behaviour and voting records of Tory, UKIP and BNP MEPs to go unnoticed by the general public. Ahead of crucial European elections in 2014, it is time for Labour to encourage LGBT people to sit up and pay attention.
UKIP, it seems, is now a two-issue party. In addition to their ceaseless whining about the evils of Europe based on dodgy stats and populist prattle, Nigel Farage has revealed his intention to make same sex marriage a central plank of UKIP’s campaign for the 2014 European elections.
This move forms part of a ploy to peel off members of the Tory blue rinse brigade who are deeply unhappy that same sex couples are being given the same rights they themselves enjoy.
The fact that Tory Members of the European Parliament hold views on LGBT people that would make David Davies blush hardly seems to matter in the clamour to attract the homophobe vote.
When looking at the voting record of British MEPs in the European Parliament, it is hard to tell whether the Tories, UKIP or the BNP are the most homophobic. All routinely vote against any measures promoting equality. Just this week Tory MEPs voted to remove all 14 paragraphs which referenced LGBT equality from a new comprehensive report of fundamental rights in the EU (UKIP voted against the whole report). Last month one of my own MEPs, the charming Nick Griffin, landed himself in hot water when he tweeted the address of a gay couple who won a case against the owners of a B&B.
Europe is treated with the same apathy amongst LGBT voters as it is by the rest of the public, yet the European Union has done much to advance LGBT equality over the last 20 years. Many of the progressive laws introduced by the last Labour government to bring about equality for LGBT people originated in the European Parliament and Commission and it was Labour MEPs and their colleagues in the group of Socialists & Democrats who ensured they were passed.
If we’re to win big in 2014 and send the Tory, UKIP and BNP homophobes packing, we need to build a rainbow coalition with LGBT voters across the country.
LGBT people make up approximately 6% of the UK population – between 3 and 4 million voters – with large concentrations in big cities, from London to Brighton in the south to Manchester, Liverpool and Blackpool in the north. We need a much more visible presence in the LGBT community in these areas and across the country if we are to mobilise support for Labour.
The excellent work of Labour MEPs such as Arlene McCarthy and Michael Cashman on LGBT rights needs to be communicated to LGBT voters and we need to expose the disgraceful comments and appalling voting records of our opponents on the right on these issues.
Labour should launch a broad campaign bringing together head office, the frontbench foreign office and equality teams, the EPLP, socialist societies such as LGBT Labour and Labour Movement for Europe and trade union LGBT groups to get out into the LGBT community over the next 18 months to engage with voters on European issues.
In addition, Labour should pledge to ensure that we have an LGBT candidate on Labour’s European Parliamentary list in every region of the UK. When Michael Cashman stands down in 2014, Labour won’t have a single LGBT MEP. In fact, with the loss of Michael Cashman, not one of the 78 MEPs Britain currently sends to the European Parliament will be LGBT, except – bizarrely – a UKIP member.