Stephen Doughty has served as the MP for Cardiff South and Penarth since winning a by-election in 2012. He has since distinguished himself amongst his colleagues, serving first as Shadow Minister for Trade and Industry. Following a reshuffle, he took up a brief as a Shadow Foreign Minister – which he famously resigned from live on the BBC following a disagreement with Jeremy Corbyn over the sacking of Shadow Minister Pat McFadden in January 2016.
THEGAYUK Magazine was fortunate enough to talk to Mr Doughty last week. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
THEGAYUK: First things first – Labour’s draft manifesto leaked last night, and it proves to be the most leftwing in a generation, promising to nationalise the railways and eliminate tuition fees, for example. Are you excited or apprehensive about selling this on the doorstep?
Stephen Doughty: Well we have a slightly different situation where I’m standing, in Wales, because Welsh labour already launched our manifesto pledges earlier in the week with Carwyn Jones, the Welsh Labour leader. So we’ve already set out our stall here very clearly. We’ve got five pledges: one on the NHS, one on schools, one on housing, one on the economy, and one on police. Those are very much messages I’ve been going on the doorstep with already, as well as my own local record. So in terms of wider manifestos and leaks, obviously until the actual manifesto is published I prefer not to comment.
TGUK: Last year you had a constituent tell you that gay people should be killed and sent to hell. As one of the higher-profile openly gay MPs, do you experience a lot of homophobia (whether online or on the doorstep)?
SD: I’ve had some pretty unpleasant comments from a local blogger, as well as people who support the far-right BNP to post homophobic material. I’ve had comments on the doorstep, and I had a UKIP candidate that sent veiled homophobic letters to constituents in the last election, saying things like that I didn’t stand up for family values and the like, which we know are dog whistles for homophobic views. Unfortunately, all MPs over the last few years have suffered significant amounts of personal abuse, no matter what party they’re from. If you’re a woman, if you’re gay, if you’re black, if your Jewish, you’re likely to have received some additional abuse and so it gets very unpleasant.
TGUK: You’ve been famously critical of Jeremy Corbyn. How are you addressing this as you campaign? How is this going for you?
SD: I’ve got no personal disputes with Jeremy. We’ve always got on very well on the personal level and have a number of issues where we have a lot of common ground. But I have been willing to speak my own mind when it comes to a number of issues, particularly where we’ve differed on issues to do with foreign policy and defence.
You know, it won’t come as any surprise but there have been a wide range of views across the Labour Party on these issues. I also think we’re in a quite different situation, as I said earlier, for those of us standing in places like Wales where, since devolution, we have quite a different set up now.
We have a Welsh Labour leader in Carwyn Jones who is popular on the doorstep, and we have very distinct policies in Wales. So I make it clear to people that there are many policy areas where I agree with Jeremy, and I think his work where he’s set out on NHS, on housing, on mental health, on a fairer economy, and indeed actually on the railways – I think what he’s setting out is exactly the right policy. But I’ve also made it my clear that I will speak my mind and stand up for the interests of my constituents, and not put my party first but put them first.
TGUK: Last month, you raised an urgent question on the way gay men in Chechnya are persecuted. The Prime Minister has finally spoken on it. What should the government be doing to promote and protect LGBT rights not just in Russia but around the world, including in Syria?
SD: I think the government in the last few years has actually downgraded human rights concerns, disappointingly. Over the issues of Chechnya, I was particularly concerned that we haven’t seen a very clear statement from the Prime Minister. We haven’t seen a clear statement from the Foreign Secretary. I think all he’s done is put out a tweet. The reality is that even when we have difficult relationships with countries like Russia, and undoubtedly with Chechnya, we need to be seen to be on the very front foot when it comes to exposing human rights abuses and urging for action to be taken. Britain’s got a proud history of standing up against abuses, and making a difference in the world, but unfortunately, we have a slightly checkered record in recent years when it comes to certain issues. We have to be consistent in standing up for all, for the rights of civilians, the rights of women, and the rights of LGBT people around the world, whether that’s in Syria, whether that’s in Chechnya, whether that’s in Yemen, whether that’s in parts of Africa, and have a consistent approach.
TGUK: You voted against triggering Article 50, despite the referendum results. Why?
SD: My constituents voted 60/40 to remain. It was a very clear majority for a remain vote, and indeed in the months afterwards I had a clear majority of constituents with great concerns about the way Theresa May was taking the Brexit negotiations. I’m very clear that I respect the overall result… but we need to ensure we get a fair deal for people in my constituency and people across Wales. There are still far too many unanswered questions about things like funding. You know, we rely a lot on funding for local universities, for infrastructure. Still no word on that from the government on access to the single market for businesses in my local area. The rights of EU citizens who have been here for often decades and on a whole series of other issues.
At the time, I wasn’t satisfied that the Prime Minister had set out a clear plan or answered those questions. I have pointed out to people that of course if every MP voted the same way as their constituents then you’d still get the same overall result. But we can’t be simply giving a blank cheque to the Prime Minister to go down a very hard Brexit route. We must find the best deal for people. It’s important that there are a number of MPs who stand up and hold her feet to the fire.
TGUK: You talk about getting the best deal, and so many of the victories in LGBT equality we’ve accomplished have been through European mechanisms. How do we ensure those European laws and rulings protecting LGBT rights are enshrined in UK law post-Brexit?
I made very clear that we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to whether that’s the rights of minority groups, whether that’s workers rights, whether that’s environmental protections. I am concerned that we are headed down a route of quite an ideological, hard, I call reckless Brexit, rather one that retains the very best of some of the protections that we’ve worked on a Pan-European level to achieve. And that’s why it’s important that there are members of parliament that are willing to speak up and ensure that those rights and freedoms are protected.
TGUK: You filed an early day motion to ban Donald Trump from speaking to the House of Commons. As you may be able to tell from my accent, I’m American. Whether we like it or not, Trump is the democratically elected president of the United States. How should the government handle relations with him?
SD: I was very clear that I wasn’t in favour of banning the President from coming to the UK or having relationships with the UK government. Clearly, as one of our longest and oldest allies, we need to have a constructive and positive relationship with the United States. Recognising that it’s not just the president but a whole series of individual state governments and other parts of the administration. However, I was very clear that we choose who we honour, and offering a full state visit with all the pomp and circumstance and carriages down the mall and an address to the joint houses of parliament is something that is earned, and it’s something that’s given by choice.
…I don’t think we should be offering up that honour to somebody who has a very checkered record on fundamental freedoms, on sexism, on racism, on the treatment of minority groups. And I think it was a mistake for that to be suggested, to be offered, and Parliament spoke very, very clearly, as did the Speaker of the House of Commons
TGUK: I want to shift focus a little and ask about sex and relationship education. Her Majesty gave royal assent to a bill making it mandatory, but it doesn’t mandate LGBT issues be taught. Will we ever get LGBT-inclusive PSHE?
SD: Well I hope so. And certainly, I was part of a group of MPs working particularly with my colleague Stella Creasy arguing for the most inclusive and positive sex and relationships education and a number of others
TGUK: That was a cross-party group, right?
SD: Yeah that was a cross-party group. A number of sponsored amendments and pushed forward an inclusive agenda. Again, it’s slightly complex. As a Welsh MP, education is devolved. The decisions about our curriculum are made in Wales. But I’ve always been of the belief that you need age appropriate but inclusive sex and relationships education that reflects the realities of life and the realities of the modern world. When you have a situation where there are still far too many young LGBT people who are bullied, excluded, or in worse cases physically or psychologically harassed or harmed, we need to be setting the very best standards.
TGUK: Wales does have an LGBT curriculum, correct?
SD: Yes. Again, it’s age appropriate. But we have a pretty inclusive curriculum here. But again the curriculum is constantly under review. And we have a different system here because we don’t have the same diversity of schools. We haven’t gone down the route of grammars and free schools and new religious schools and things like that.
TGUK: I guess, I’m going to segue off that question. What can England learn from Wales?
SD: One of the reasons we have our own distinctive pledges and manifesto in Wales is because we have taken a very different approach when it comes to things like healthcare and education and other issues. We haven’t had a doctor’s strike in Wales. We haven’t had a costly reorganisation of the NHS. We spend 6% higher on health and social care per head of population in Wales than in England. We haven’t gone down the route of having grammar schools. We’ve actually been building new schools and new hospitals.
The Prime Minister is quite keen to come down and rubbish Wales on a regular basis, but the actual difference is now being felt and recognised by the people of Wales. People do now recognise that distinction and what a difference having a Welsh Labour government makes.
TGUK: You mention the Prime Minister rubbishing Wales, but the Conservative vote is growing. Does that concern you at all?
SD: Yeah. One of the difficulties you do have in Wales is that we don’t have a strong and distinct national media, as say in example in Scotland. So a lot of people do engage with a lot of English focused newspapers and broadcasts. Obviously, that reads across into what people are raising on the doorstep and talking about. It is concerning to see the Conservatives doing so well in the polls. However last year the pundits had us losing significant numbers of seats in the National Assembly elections. This year they had us losing significant numbers of seats in the local council elections. And we defied the pundits both times.
TGUK: What’s the most pressing issue facing the LGBT community in this election?
SD: To pick one issue I think is very difficult because whilst there are distinct issues facing the LGBT community, members of the LGBT community are human beings and voters just like anybody else. They’re going to have the same concerns about healthcare, education, housing, benefits policy, state of the economy. There’s always a bit of a danger in separating us out too distinctly.
However, I think certainly one of the issues I’ve come across has been that we have legal equality now in the country. I was very proud to vote on the bill that introduced equal marriage, and sort of fought for many of those last blocks in the inequality picture over the last few years, building on the amazing work others have done over the decades. The real challenge now is to make sure those laws are implemented, that attitudes are changed and that we deal with the stigma that a lot of young people face still in many parts of the country. And in relation to places like Chechnya that we stand as a beacon for LGBT rights and equality in the world. We’ve had the largest number of LGBT parliamentarians in the last Parliament. We’ve taken the most decisive steps on legal equality. We need to now be using our good offices and intent to sell that example to the rest of the world.