Has Chris Grayling done a Howard Flight?
There was no national uproar demanding Mr Flight’s head; just a few Labour-supporting rags stirring up allegations of hypocrisy with cries of ‘same old Tories’ and the boringly-predictable ‘nasty party’ mantra.
But he was, nonetheless, summarily dismissed by Michael Howard, who justified his actions with: “What I can't have is someone misrepresenting my view, misrepresenting what we do in government and suggesting that we say one thing in private and another thing in public."
God forbid that Michael Howard would ever misrepresent anyone’s view.
Howard Flight was, of course, misrepresented by the media and appallingly dealt with by the party. He was dismissed essentially for articulating conservative philosophy instead of Conservative policy, and it was a gross injustice meted out upon him by an autocratic, hysterical megalomaniac.
Here we are now in 2010, and Chris Grayling, a rather more prominent front-bencher, has been secretly recorded whilst addressing a meeting of the Centre for Policy Studies. He has had the temerity to express a sympathetic understanding of the Christian conscience: he is of the opinion that Christians who offer Bed & Breakfast services in their own homes should ‘have the right’ to turn away homosexual couples if they so desire.
There is uproar not only from Labour ministers (like Chris Bryant and Ben Bradshaw) and the Labour-supporting media but also from gay-rights organisations who are aghast that David Cameron’s Conservative-brand decontamination appears to have been little more than skin deep: the ‘nasty party’ still has ‘bigots’. And so the enlightened, progressive and ever-so-slightly gay ones are baying for blood: they want the head of Chris Grayling served on a silver platter, or they’ll scream and scream and scream.
Nothing of intolerance or 'bigotry' in that, of course.
What Mr Grayling actually said was: "I think we need to allow people to have their own consciences. I personally always took the view that, if you look at the case of should a Christian hotel owner have the right to exclude a gay couple from a hotel, I took the view that if it's a question of somebody who's doing a B&B in their own home, that individual should have the right to decide who does and who doesn't come into their own home."
He drew a distinction, however, with hotels, which he says should admit gay couples. "If they are running a hotel on the high street, I really don't think that it is right in this day and age that a gay couple should walk into a hotel and be turned away because they are a gay couple, and I think that is where the dividing line comes."
And he has drawn attention to the fact that, notwithstanding his personal beliefs, he voted in favour of Labours Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 which outlawed discrimination in the provision of goods and services.
The facts, however, become irrelevant to the politics of perception.
David Cameron has bent over backwards to win over gay and lesbian voters by stressing his new-look party's liberal credentials. He has recanted of his former anti-gay voting, repented of Section 28 which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality in schools, and he voted in favour of civil partnerships.
Now, however, there is more than a whiff of inconsistency that he tolerates front-bench ‘bigots’ who are not quite as committed to the Cameron reforms as they might appear.
This perhaps would not matter so much if there were not an inconvenient ‘candidate issue’ in Northern Ireland.
Adrian Watson was the Ulster Unionist candidate for South Antrim.
Since the UUP and Conservatives are now in alliance in the Province, his candidature had to be affirmed by both parties.
The UUP affirmed him with a colossal 90 per cent of the vote: they love their mayor.
But the Conservative selection panel torpedoed Mr Watson’s candidacy when it emerged that he had made ‘anti-gay’ comments in 2006.
He and his wife are committed Christians and offer Bed & Breakfast services in their own home. He says his wife has ‘strong family and Christian values’. With young children, he said he would feel ‘uncomfortable’ with the arrangements: “It was just so awkward, trying to explain to young children what being gay is.”
And Mr Watson has gone out of his way to reassure people that he is not remotely ‘homophobic’, that he has gay friends and that he has no problem at all with equality legislation.
But perception is all.
And God help any candidate who strays off piste, even years before a general election campaign, and years before any change in party policy might be known or even foreseen. It is the task of the media and political élite to misrepresent, distort, demonise and pursue vendettas if it serves their own higher purposes.
And, although undoubtedly a highly-regarded Antrim mayor and respected member of the UUP, Mr Watson is just a pawn in Unionist/Conservative power play.
But even a pawn can put a king in check.
And Mr Watson now wishes to know, quite reasonably, why his personal beliefs cost him his candidature and, potentially, his whole political career, while Chris Grayling is not only still contesting Epsom and Ewell at the forthcoming General Election; he remains the Conservative Party’s front-bench spokesman for Home Affairs.
Mr Watson is particularly irked (‘furious’, actually) because Mr Grayling went ‘much further’ in his comments than Mr Watson did back in 2006. He concludes: “What I have witnessed over the last six weeks is a vendetta waged against me for a statement I made three years ago.”
He is not, of course, the first.
But that knowledge does not lessen the pain, humiliation and trauma of being persecuted for one's beliefs.
The wonder is that the Conservative Party believes it can rig candidate selection in Northern Ireland like it does in the Home Counties: a politically-correct, female/black/Asian/gay/lesbian appointment will not be tolerated by the loyal Christians of Antrim: they want their socially-conservative mayor, not least because he understands the local culture and religious politics which are a world away from the liberal androgyny of Cameroon metrosexual metropolitanism. If you want to win in Northern Ireland, you don't alienate the churches.
It remains to be seen if David Cameron acts as hysterically as Michael Howard did back in 2005.
If he does, and if he dismisses Chris Grayling simply for articulating Conservative philosophy on an issue of conscience, then the autocracy at the heart of the party may be seen not to have changed at all.
And that is of far greater significance than the flotsam and jetsam of whether or not you wish to share your cornflakes with a couple of gays.