MIKE FREER CON­SER­VA­TIVE

GT (UK) - - ELECTION -

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.”

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