MIKE FREER CONSERVATIVE
Thatcher is often heavily criticised for her record on gay rights. But in her old constituency of Finchley and Golders Green, there’s now a gay man in occupation. Mike Freer is a big advocate of gay rights – given they’re his own – and took full advantage of the new same-sex marriage laws, marrying his longterm partner at the start of the year.
“I’ve never had a problem in the Conservative Party,” he tells GT. “I’ve never had a problem with my members, never when I was an activist, certainly not when I was leader of Barnet Council. Homophobia exists in all walks of life, but I’ve never found that the Conservative Party is any more homophobic than any other walk of life. I broadly identified as a Conservative, because I believe governments should get out of the way of who I sleep with or what’s behind closed doors.
“Now I accept that different parties have done things. Tony Blair was the one who pushed through the civil partnership legislation, and I’m not sure my party would have done that at the time. But there’s been a huge change in the Conservative Party, particularly under David Cameron.”
During the last Parliament – since 2010 – the Conservatives have had more out MPs than the other parties combined. At this election, they have the most candidates: A total of 41. How gay is the Tory party? “Oh, please, it’s always been gay! They used to say if it wasn’t for the gay Tories, central office would never operate! But probably not more gay than Parliament.”
Still, the majority of Conservative MPs voted against marriage equality, and it seems unlikely it would have passed without other parties’ support. “It’s interesting, that. Every party had people who opposed it. I mean, a lot of my colleagues in Parliament didn’t know that I was gay. I never went round saying, ‘I’m the gay MP!’ I just wanted to be a good constituency MP, who happens to be gay.
“Going for breakfast, you’d hear people talking about it, saying they didn’t understand why gays wouldn’t be happy with civil partnerships. Most of the debate was quite pleasant, there were maybe half a dozen who weren’t. I had a major falling out with one of my colleagues over it. We didn’t speak, we couldn’t bear to be in the same room as one or another for six months. But we’ve made up now. And then I went to his wedding – a straight wedding.”
How should a gay constituent of his friend, who was so against same-sex marriage, feel? “I think you have to think about why. We shouldn’t fall into the trap of stereotyping those who voted against as being homophobic. I have a colleague who just didn’t believe the state should be involved, full stop. I don’t agree, but it’s not homophobic of them.”
David Cameron has been an ardent and admirable supporter of extending marriage rights. What, then, would be the priorities for a second term in charge? “Some of the challenges that I will be pushing for will be the spousal veto – there’s a lot of room to go with trans issues. We’ve got to embed in the teacher training programme issues of homophobic bullying. In my personal view, we’ve also got to really unpick our HIV prevention programme and make that work.”