In the 1990s, Peter Tatchell was in the news because of OutRage!, which had a policy of outing gay men still in the closet, with the motivation - or at least this is my understanding - that they were betraying those already out and that their keeping quiet would only delay public acceptance of homosexuality.
Although I understand the logic and respect his sincerity, I thought it was wrong then and I still do now, even when that acceptance has come such a long way as to have seriously diminished – although clearly not removed – the importance of the whole issue. To my mind, it is someone’s right to be in the closet as and when they choose, and come out of it when they choose. It is not for the state, or any third party, to interfere with that decision.
But recently, despite still differing with him on a lot of things, I have come to have a great respect for Tatchell for his work as a tireless human rights campaigner (a fact he might well be horrified to hear, in the unlikely event he has any idea who I am).
A good example is the resounding brilliance of this post, in which he states what is clear to most thinking people, that hate preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi is an anti-Semite of the most unpleasant variety, and calls out the “so-called left” on their tolerance to such characters:
“When OutRage! and I protested against Qaradawi being hosted by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, in 2004, much of the so-called “left” denounced us as racists, Islamophobes, imperialists and neo-cons. Sick!
I’m a left-winger but nowadays too many leftists are apologists for Islamism, misogyny, anti-Semitism and homophobia.”Quite right, and arguments with which readers of the Centre Left or Harry's Place will be familiar. But I mention Tatchell also as a great example of a wider phenomenon.
What is happening in left-wing politics, including within the Labour Party, over recent years is a realignment.
It is not a realignment of right and left, as evidenced by the marked differences between my views and those of Tatchell, and others well to the left of me, with whom I fully share an abhorrence of this apologia for Islamism, misogyny, anti-Semitism and homophobia. It is a realignment which cuts across traditional left-right shades of “progressive” opinion, and separates into what Nick Cohen calls “the decent left”, and the not-so-decent left. The Galloways and, I’m afraid, the Livingstones.
In the middle, there is a large body of Labour supporters and other assorted leftists who are pretending that there is no issue here. Move along, nothing to see here. The easy explanation is that people like me are trying to stigmatise people with whose views they disagree; the Labour “right” trying to push out the Labour “left”.
But I am not so factional. I am not. The fact that I side with Tatchell, with whom I disagree on many other things, and have a strong desire to keep people like him within spectrum of mainstream left debate, gives the lie to that.
I do not expect everyone to agree with me on the size of the state, or borrowing versus austerity, immigration or healthcare. I want a pluralistic party which debates all those things. In some my views may win out, in others they may lose. That is the battle of ideas.
But I do expect – no, I demand – that Labour be a decent party. That we turn our back on that way of thinking that Tatchell describes. Because those little outward signals already damage us a little in the eyes of the public now, and that is nothing to what will one day happen when they and the media truly realise the extent of the problem.
What is abundantly clear to me is that, at some point, that large, neutral body in the middle of the Labour Party is going to have to take sides.
All I hope is this: that the members of the not-so-decent left, who have a history of entryism into mainstream bodies such as my beloved party stretching back to the 1980s and before, have not by then infected part of the “neutral middle” with their tolerance of intolerance. And, quite probably, made another part leave the party in disgust.
Bravo, Peter Tatchell, bravo, for your stand against those who pretend to be left but are really of the far right. And may we long disagree about some other, to me less important, stuff.