Closet Queens

Coldstream GuardsWhen, one winter’s night in 1958, Ian Harvey (a minor apparatchik in Her Maj’s Government of the day) was caught pleasuring a Coldstream Guard in the bushes of London’s St James’s Park, Winston Churchill is said to have remarked,

On the coldest night of the year? It makes you proud to be British.

Closet QueensI laughed when I read this but it does reveal the barefaced hypocrisy of the ruling class at the time with their do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do attitude to sexual shenanigans. Boy-on-boy activity was on the menu at every British public (i.e. private) school and fagging* was the dish of the day, whereas us plebs could be banged up for even the briefest of fumbles behind the bike sheds. Many were. Now there’s a fascinating new book that prises open the Establishment’s closet door and shines a torch into the dank recesses. Closet Queens by Michael Bloch is a survey of alleged gay or bisexual male politicians of the Twentieth Century. From tittle-tattle to open secrets, it’s an amusing read. But what about the plaster saints of the cassock class? There are a quite a few bones rattling away in the rectory, or so I’ve heard.

As for Mr Harvey, he got off lightly with a small fine and a slap on the wrist but he was forced to resign his ministerial position. For a Tory, he sounds quite a decent sort of chap. He paid the errant soldier’s fine and returned to his wife and kids with his tail between his legs. From 1972 onwards, he was the Vice-President of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. And that’s not all. In 1980 he became Chairman of the Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality. Blimey. I didn’t know there was a Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality. In fact, until fairly recently, I’d never seen the words ‘Conservative’ and ‘homosexual equality’ in the same sentence. To be fair, equality wasn’t exactly high on Old Labour’s agenda either. Your average salt of the earth, red blooded working class bloke wasn’t really into poofters; unless it was behind the bike sheds, of course.

*A fag was a young pupil who provided a personal service to one or more older boys. Well, you can just imagine what that involved.

The Great Flood

Flood 2014

As a card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool, bleeding heart pinko liberal (though not in the party political sense), I don’t have much time for the UK Independence Party. To me, it looks like a motley crew of disaffected Tories, the swivel-eyed variety, bible-thumping zealots, little England xenophobes and closet and not-so-closet fascists – not the kind of people I’d give my last Rolo to. Just sit back and watch as they trip themselves up with their own silly rhetoric, something that happens with embarrassing regularity. Cue the nice UKIP town councillor from Henley-on-Thames, David Silvester. Mr Silvester raised a few eyebrows when he wrote a letter to his local rag, the Henley Standard. In it, he claimed that the floods which recently beset these soggy islands were divine retribution for the legalisation of gay marriage. He wrote:

“The scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel (and in naked breach of a coronation oath) will be beset by natural disasters.”

Mr Silvester was once a Conservative councillor (nuff said) but defected to UKIP because of the Government’s policy on marriage equality. I wonder how the wise councillor explains the Great North Sea Flood of 1953, the very year of the Coronation. It was a time when England was still largely the God-fearing, church-going, gay-jailing, warm-beer drinking, class-ridden, women-know-their-place, whites only earthly paradise that, presumably, Mr Silvester pines after. The flood claimed the lives of 300 souls in England alone (with more in Scotland, and the Low Countries), badly damaged over 24,000 buildings and forced 30,000 people to flee their homes. God really does work in mysterious ways.

Mr Silvester’s words unleashed a firestorm of ridicule on social media. So much so, that he’s now considered too extreme even for UKIP, who have since suspended him from the party.  The delicious furore has even spawned some spoof news items. My personal favourites are:

The UKIP Shipping Forecast

Married Gays to Tour Drought-hit Countries

Liam is packing our saddle bags as I write but we think the Sahara might be a challenge, even for these two unrepentant sinners.

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Margaret Thatcher, RIP

Thatcher_cartoon_1821379c
Credit: Gerald Scarfe

Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female Prime Minister has died at the age of 87. She was not expected to become Tory top dog, nor last for long when she was first handed the keys to Number Ten. But, against the odds, she was to be the longest serving First Lord of the Treasury of the Twentieth Century. In recent years, she lived out her dotage away from public gaze as she slowly disappeared into the white fog of dementia. Even so, she still generates a lot of huff and puff from her disciples and her critics. Few people over 40 hold an apolitical view of her. Love her or loathe her, the Iron Lady was without doubt the commanding political figure of the age with bigger balls than all the men around her. Few survived a side swipe from Maggie’s handbag. I think she carried a brick in it. Over the coming weeks and months, expect to see an outpouring of adoration and bile in equal measure. The mass media will pick over the bones of Maggie’s legacy and there’ll be heated exchanges in pubs up and down the realm. Is Britain today a fairer and more equal society? I think so but this is despite the Baroness, not because of her.