Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Remembering Clause 28

I recently read a (sub-)cultural history of the UK from 1967-2005 through the eyes of a Radio DJ who presided over that era with all its changing musical and social trends (You can view my review in the second half of this video). The author had given context to each chapter with an item from the national news from that year, which kindled my memory as much as the music he wrote about. What struck me in particular were the host of politicians who were brought back to mind, but who have long since disappeared from consciousness. Any legislation they were responsible for, has disappeared along with them; either repealed, fallen into disuse, or just being of utter inconsequence to deny them any kind of legacy in the history books.

However I want to talk about one MP in particular whom I will never allow to lapse from my memory, through his iniquitous contribution to the laws of the UK. His name is David Wilshire and he was responsible for one of the grossest acts of prejudice and inequality ever committed to the statute books. 

First some context, it was the mid 1980s, AIDS was just rising to the public consciousness and was being solely portrayed as a "Gay Disease" by media and Conservative government alike. The Left in the UK was very much on the retreat in the face of the typhoon that was Thatcherism sweeping away every single institutional form of collective organisation and action. However, there was one last outpost for the Left, local government in the large cities, where socialism held sway and indeed was the incubator for the current Labour Party leadership troika of Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonald and Diane Abbott. These councils were committed to policies of equality and diversity and despite having their budgets slashed by central government, funded a few organisations whose mission was to support those discriminated against in society. These circumstances formed a perfect storm.

With proposed new legislation being considered by Parliament to further restrict the funding for local government, David Wilshire tacked on an amendment called "Clause 28" which stated that a local authority 
"shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".

The Bill with this Clause 28 was passed into law, thus enshrining prejudice, discrimination and homophobia within the British constitution.  Even at the time there were those dubious as to how a legal definition of 'promoting' could be established, but the mere notion that someone's sexual orientation could be determined through proselytising or whispering in the ear is as old and pernicious as saying that homosexuality and pedophilia are one and the same. This is further added to by the phrasing that a loving homosexual couple can only be a "pretended family relationship". 

Such logic represents prejudicial thinking and bigotry and nothing less. It is of the same warped logic that views Jews as controlling the world's finances, or that non-white races are inferior. It is buttressed around religious notions of family and children and all manner of biblical citations against same sex relationships. 

I wrote to David Wilshire MP to register my objections to a law that would not impact on me (unless one of my as yet future progeny identified as gay), but to my very marrow I felt was unjust and inimical to peaceful,compassionate living together in our societies. He wrote back saying could I address my concerns with my own local MP rather than bother him? I wrote back pointing out that this had been his personal amendment and therefore not unreasonable to request a response. He never replied to that. (This represents a failing in UK democracy, since all MPs represent a political party and if yours happens to be in a party with no power through being out of government, then they have no means of addressing any national issue that divides according to party lines).

Clause 28, as so many laws in the UK, proved unenforceable, because they are so badly drafted from a legal point of view despite the Parliaments of that era being dominated by MPs who were formerly lawyers. It was constantly being challenged as to whether it only covered the local councils themselves (who were responsible for state schools), or whether it extended to teachers, headmasters, school governors and guidance counsellors. The law wasn't used in an active way to prosecute anyone and was eventually repealed in the 2000s. It achieved precisely nothing other than to chill coming out, to deny opportunities for school guidance counsellors and to deal with anti-gay bullying in schools. 

What it did do was galvanise the Gay Rights movement in the UK and irony of ironies has led to where we are today legislatively, with gay marriage enshrined in law and homosexual partnerships broadly accorded the same status in law as heterosexual ones including child adoption. So much for the "pretended family relationship". 

I don't do political marches on the whole, (I dissect the purpose and efficacy of the political demonstration in my novel "Not In My Name"). But I marched against Clause 28. And it was the most enjoyable march I have been on. Through an actress friend of mine, I ended up marching with her under the "AARGH" banner of cartoonists and graphic novelists. AARGH stood for "Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia" and was started by the likes of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. I've still got the issue of the original comic somewhere. The publishing company was called "Mad Love". 

No one remembers David Wilshire MP because his squalid little piece of legislation has been buried by events taking their course, to see such a mindset very much a minority position a mere 30 years later. However, there are still unpleasant echoes from that time, in that transgender people are facing claims that 'vulnerable' children can be convinced that they are in wrongly gendered bodies, that transitioning can be 'promoted' where its notion otherwise would not exist. We also still had a member of the UK Independence Party recently claiming that UK floods were a punishment from God for legislating gay marriage into law. So still some prejudicial barriers and thinking to be conquered then. Still, on the plus side, a likely further irony of ironies, is that the Anglican Church may very well destroy itself as it is split down the middle over gay priests, so where will that leave Biblical 'proofs' and citations against homosexuality? 

However, even if Wilshire has all but disappeared from people's memories, I just want to provide a coda on his fate. For a man who apparently believed in the sanctity of the family, even back in 1988 he was living with a partner as a commonlaw wife. A wife whom he employed in his Parliamentary staff and proceeded to channel public funds into a company nominally run by her. To such an extent, that his own local Conservative Party association wanted to replace him as their MP and under pressure he decided not to run for the constituency again. For a man who claimed that Clause 28 was not about bigotry, but about the use of taxpayers' money, funny thing was he wasn't above using taxpayers' money to make outrageous claims for decorating and refurbishing his second home in London -  this for the MP whose constituency was next to London Heathrow airport and therefore of dubious legitimacy that he even needed a second home in London in order to carry out his Parliamentary duties.  

David Wilshire, most people in the UK are unlikely to have ever heard of you, or certainly couldn't recollect you. But I will never forget your name, nor will I ever forgive you your bigotry. 

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