Michael McManus poses himself a losing challenge with this book. He attempts to demonstrate that the Conservative party has transformed its view of LGBT issues and reform.
McManus captures the tone of the Conservative party very well and does an effective job of demonstrating their well-known prejudice and denigration of oppressed and minority groups.
McManus begins by looking at the push towards “the decriminalisation of private sexual relations between consenting men, over the age of 21”, commissioned by the Wolfenden Committee. Once thought to be a working class backwardness or vice, homosexuality was just as much part of the ruling classes, as proven by the Wildeblood case of 1954, where three “high-profile and privileged men” were arrested and charged. McManus places the reader in the Houses of Parliament, witnessing the horrific and prolonged exchanges for and against decriminalisation. He highlights certain politicians, such as Tory MP Bob Boothby, who by supporting decriminalisation ultimately put their career at risk.
The battle for decriminalisation was only won in 1967 and McManus takes almost half of the book to recount this progress. However, he soon stumbles upon the notorious Section 28 implemented by Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet in 1988 which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools. McManus champions Thatcher’s previous support for the aims of the Wolfenden Committee. However, he feebly admits she reneged on this support once she came into office.
Section 28 was no doubt enacted over the emergence of HIV/Aids into the gay community, as well as Labour and the “loony left” (as McManus often refers to them) providing educational materials with positive representations of the gay community. On the issue of HIV/Aids it is unnerving that McManus absolves the Conservative party of any “gay-baiting” and does not explain the flurry of anti-gay media and public opinion that was formed during Thatcher’s premiership.
McManus ends his book by looking at the current coalition government. Section 28 was only repealed in 2003 yet we face another Conservative government that is proving to be no different from previous ones. LGBT services are being completely dismantled by the coalition government; HIV/Aids medical care, transgender services (including operations) and counselling and support centres are being cut. McManus mentions none of this. Moreover, harking back to the days of Section 28, we now have Michael Gove’s proposal to promote marriage within the British school curriculum.
Throughout his book McManus is honest about the bigotry of Tory party members throughout the ages. However he fails to understand such bigotry as inherent within Conservative ideology. McManus does not point to the grassroots campaigns that have won the LGBT movement real gains; his focus remains on law reform. McManus’s book is a poor attempt at freeing the Conservative party from its record of bigotry.
Tory Pride and Prejudice is published by Biteback, £20