Peter Kyle is used to a fight. He has represented Hove since 2015 – one of the few Labour gains that year. Now he’s standing for reelection against Kirsty Adams, who has come under scrutiny for her views on faith healing and connections to a church which allegedly claims to be able to “cure” gay people. He has also been famously critical of party leadership, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Ever outspoken, THEGAYUK spoke with Mr Kyle last month. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
THEGAYUK MAGAZINE: You were one of the few Labour gains from the Tories in 2015, a real success for the party as the only Labour MP in Sussex. How are you feeling this go-round?
PETER KYLE: This election has a lot more pressure for me and the team, but a lot less stress. The pressure comes from the fact that there are now a lot of people who are really depending on me and the team to win again. I’m very aware of that pressure. And being only two years in, a lot of people sacrificed an awful lot for us to win the first time, and also to contribute to the work we’re doing here. I desperately want to make sure that I can deliver for them, and that we can keep the whole operation here to serve the community in the way we have.
But a lot less stress, because in the last election there was a lot of battling with the party who kept sending down a lot of – it was very centrally controlled, and I was rebelling against it all the time, which caused a lot of stress and difficulty for me personally, and some of the people helping me to run the campaign. But this time me and the party are completely on the same page. They’ve been unbelievably helpful and supportive. It feels very different and at times it’s still so surprising because it’s such a swift election, unlike the last one. But I’m certainly relishing it and enjoying it.
TGUK: It’s interesting to hear you talk about the support you have from the party because last year you called Jeremy Corbyn a “losing leader.” Do you still think that and how have you been handling the issue of the Labour leadership on the doorstep?
PK: The quote you just referenced actually wasn’t solely linked to Jeremy. When I said that quote, the exact quote was, “I’ll be loyal to a winning vision for Britain, not a losing leader.” And that was in reference to, not just to the situation that the Labour Party was in at the time, which was last summer. It was in reference to the fact that in the past that every time we’ve been asked to be loyal to an individual, and not a vision, then the party has stumbled. I was even referencing Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Exactly that point when it shifted from being an agenda and a vision for Britain to “who are you loyal to? Are you Tony’s or are you Gordon’s?” then the whole operation, the whole vision, started to fall apart. So that was what I was getting at that point.
But I do accept there is some relevance to today, and I’ve never recoiled from the fact that I’ve been critical of Jeremy. I didn’t support him in either of his leadership elections. I supported other candidates. I also voted no confidence in him. So it would be completely ludicrous for me to stand here now and say I wouldn’t rather have another leader leading us into this election because my past shows that I would.
TGUK: Your majority is only 1,236, which is why I imagine you had so many phone calls so early on. Labour is keen to defend this seat. But the Greens have stood down in Brighton Kempton and the Liberal Democrats have stood down in Brighton Pavilion. Any chance they could stand down in favour of you, and would you welcome their support – especially given your opposition to Brexit?
PK: Well also, don’t forget UKIP have stood down in Hove. You’ve got UKIP, you’ve got Liberals, and you’ve got the Greens all doing deals behind closed doors, and all trying to tell their own supporters whom they should vote for. And then we have the Labour Party, which is the only party which is going out there and just meeting the public and selling a vision to the public and letting the public know who they are, what we stand for, and what we will do if we win their trust. For me, politics starts in a community and it ends in a community. Before I became an MP, I’d set two charities up and I got a doctorate in community development. For me, it is all about the community. The idea that I would try to earn votes by disappearing off into a meeting room and doing a deal is a complete anathema to everything I believe politics should be about, which is about establishing a relationship and earning trust. So I know there is a lot of sort of game playing going on, but at the end of the day, I just think it’s residents and voters who own democracy. It is not political parties.
TGUK: To piggyback off that, though, doesn’t it sort of make sense if your primary objective is to defeat the Tories to form these electoral pacts? Or is that not your primary objective?
PK: Well it’s so seductive, and I understand why. But I can’t, as a Labour Member of Parliament or representative go to a voter who has voted for me in the past and say “I want you to vote for someone else.”
TGUK: Well no, in this case, they would be saying “vote for Peter!”
PK: No I realise, but I think when you’ve spent so much time door-knocking and talking to people, our job is to get out there and earn the votes. People have fractured and supported different political parties for a reason… And just think – if I was a voter having my dinner and listening to a political party just using my vote as a pawn, as a trading block, as you know, horse-trading my vote. I know exactly how I would feel. It would absolutely drive me crazy that someone would take my vote and assume they can trade it, when I’ve never even met the person. I don’t understand what’s driving it. Can you understand how completely frustrating this would be – or is – for people? …I didn’t go into politics to disenfranchise people and to take the vote away. I went into politics to earn peoples’ votes. So the idea that people could be left with no alternative but to sit at home and not vote for anybody, I don’t know. It’s just, you know, that’s why we can go ‘round and ‘round in circles or we can just do it the old-fashioned way, which is what I like doing. Get out there in communities, tell people who you are, listen to people – because listening is the single most powerful tool in politics – and then put your values and principles to task to solve their problems that they tell you about. For me, it’s simply that straightforward.
TGUK: Well one of your values has been, as you’ve said, very pro-European. You were against triggering Article 50, even after the referendum vote. Why?
PK: Because I didn’t see that our country is ready to start the process. And every day since has vindicated the decision I took there. What I was not doing was trying to stop the process of leaving the European Union altogether. What I was doing was just trying to say that if we start this process now, I believe there is a likelihood that my community will be damaged by it, either economically or socially.
TGUK: So you don’t subscribe to the “now or never” philosophy?
PK: No. No. We do this when we’re ready because it’s massive. It’s unprecedented. At the time of triggering Article 50, to the best of our knowledge, the European Union has 600 specialist trade negotiators and 3000 support negotiators. As of the latest data coming from our government, we had zero. So we only started hiring trade negotiators late last year. So they could only have been in post a couple months before we start the most complicated set of negotiations our country has ever faced in our history. So is it right to start it at that point, or should we wait a couple months until the team is ready, we know what our negotiation stances are, we understand the breadth of this, this huge endeavour we’re about to undertake. I think it was wise just to wait to get it ready. Triggering Article 50 by the end of March was just totally arbitrary. A totally arbitrary date that Theresa May plucked simply for political expediency and not based on what would get the best results for our country. So could I just blindly walk along with that? I couldn’t.
TGUK: So much of LGBT equality, from the equal age of consent to military service, was accomplished through European mechanisms (the European Court of Human Rights or the European Court of Justice, in particular). Brexit doesn’t pull us out of the European Court of Human Rights, but the Tories have made overtures to repealing the Human Rights Act in the past. What does Brexit mean for LGBT rights in the UK?
PK: Well, we already know that Theresa May has said she wants this election to strengthen her negotiating hand with the European Union, in the negotiations. But instantly she has started to talk now about overturning things like the fox hunting ban. So we know for a fact that she is going to use this strong mandate not just for the negotiations. She’s going to use this overwhelming power that she has asked and demanded from the British public to turn the clock back to please people who are ideologically conservative. And what worries me is that we now have this strand of conservatism in this country which is being led by Republican conservatism in the US. It’s starting to talk very openly about small-c conservative values, which include some elements of religious values. I’ve had now several times people starting to talk to me again about whether we should look again at gay marriage.
TGUK: Are these people on the doorstep?
PK: Not many. But it’s now – one person has suggested to me that liberal values like gay marriage was one of the reasons they voted for Brexit, and that they’ve been kind of allowed to believe that by UKIP and some conservative elements within the Tory party. So we need to make sure – I think what we need now is a period where we really defend what we’ve achieved in the last couple decades.
I went to high school in the 80s and I remember vividly Section 28 being read out in school. We were reading a book and the teacher had to read a text that basically clarified that by reading this text they were in no way condoning the actions of the two characters. That’s a state comprehensive school in Sussex. So to go from that which led up to 1996, and then suddenly in 1997 to have such a swift pathway towards a whole bunch of things, using the European Union and civil society campaigning groups like Stonewall and all of the other local ones which were incredible.
We had such rapid progress that I understand some people were unsettled by it, because rapid change always unsettles people. But we now need a period where we’re not just looking to what we need to achieve in the next ten years.
TGUK: Her Majesty just gave royal assent to mandatory sex and relationship education, but it doesn’t include LGBT people. My question is are we ever going to have LGBT-inclusive PSHE?
PK: A school in my constituency here has won a Stonewall Award for equality in education. One of the other schools here has a gay group where – it’s very interesting, it’s not just for students who are gay. It’s for other students to show support for or learn how to talk about gender or sexuality in, not in a sensitive way, but in an inclusive way. I sat in and observed one of these groups and it was absolutely inspiring. Young people sort of, I don’t know, they have a particular way of dealing with these issues which is for people of my age, in their mid-40s, is quite emotional because it’s just so profoundly different to how it was done in my day. Well, it wasn’t done in my day. I grew up, I didn’t know another gay person growing up. So when you read this Section 28 stuff, it has this profound impact on you because you can’t really go talk to anyone else and ask “how do you feel about this?” It was a very isolating experience, whereas in progressive schools now and I believe in a majority of parts of the country now, having a diversity challenge – whatever it might be- is becoming a much more inclusive and shared experience which you can talk about openly and share, even if it’s not an experience shared by others, if you know what I mean?
TGUK: You’ve advocated outlawing sex in return for housing accommodation – something many people undoubtedly support. But what does this trend tell us about the state of housing in this country, and what can Labour do to fix it?
PK: Well I mean I live in Brighton and Hove where we have an absolute housing crisis and because not only do we have a housing shortage, we are short by about 13 or 14 000 homes. On top of that, we’ve got two universities. We have a very specific challenge and I think we’re an outlier city when it comes to housing, because other cities are moving in the same direction and we need to be really upfront and honest about this.
What that means is we have some people who are being made vulnerable by it and these are people who are, I say that young people who grew up in a family with assets will always succeed. If people grew up in a family where the parents own the housing, they have assets, they have capital, then they’re going to succeed in life. But increasingly people who don’t have capital are going to struggle. So if you’re talent rich but capital poor you’re going to really struggle in life, and these are the people who are becoming increasingly susceptible to exploitation. And the sex for rent is the latest incarnation of it.
The solution is quite simple: we need to build more houses. In a city like Brighton and Hove, we need to build more houses for people who are growing up here, have a connection to the city, because 40 percent of the housing transactions here go to people from London.
TGUK: I hesitated to bring this up, but I have to ask, what do you make of claims your Tory opponent, Kirsty Adams, believes she healed a deaf man by laying hands on him and praying? Could faith healing replace the NHS?
PK: The thing that worries me more than this being uncovered is the fact that she did an interview last week where she refused to answer questions about her faith, and she refused to even answer the question about whether she had faith because she said it’s a private matter. I believe that is much more of a worry than the claim to have healed someone by laying her hands on them. The reason is this – if you stand up in front of sixty or seventy thousand people and say “I want to be your advocate, I want to be your voice in the House of Commons,” people need to know what motivates you, what drives you, what is your decision making process?
That’s why I think it’s absolutely fair for people to ask me if I’m gay or not. I think the line gets blurred when people ask about your history or your sexual history or more intimate details. Then the line gets blurred. Obviously, there is a limit. But faith, sexuality, family background, these are all things that speak to who you are and how you make decisions and what gets you out of the bed in the morning and motivates you in life. These are fundamental parts of your being, and therefore to refuse to even discuss it or acknowledge it in public worries me far more than claims that she can cure the deaf.
TGUK: What’s the biggest issue facing the LGBT community in this election?
PK: Hate. I think it’s hate. I think there is, something has happened in our community, in our society in the last few years. I think politicians should use the platform they have to bring people together. Yet in the last few years, very unusually in British politics because – Karl Marx said that Britain is the rock on which the waves of revolution break. And he was right about that, at least. We’re not a revolutionary society. We are actually a phenomenally accepting community.
Indeed, we accepted him when every other country repelled him. But recently, unusually for us, we’ve had people who have exploited difference for political gain and have actually driven a wedge between groups of people by age, by gender, by sexuality, you know?
Nigel Farage choosing to sew the seeds of fear about HIV, people living with HIV, during an election period is one of the most hateful things I’ve ever experienced in my life. Instantly when I saw him do it brought tears to my eyes. Tears of anger. That is something we have to stand very firm against because I think it is still there. There are some who are still doing it. And there are some in our society who are susceptible to the lure of the simple answers the peddlers of hate have. And that makes us as a community, as an LGBT community, extremely vulnerable.
Skylar Baker-Jordan is THEGAYUK’s political contributing editor and has bylines at HuffPost, The Independent and the Daily Dot.