The general election is a month away from today, but the big news last week was the already-scheduled local elections which took place throughout the country on Thursday.
The Tories, rather predictably, swept the local councils. Meanwhile, there hasn’t been this much Labour shock and pain since Sonia Fowler unexpectedly gave birth on EastEnders. The party suffered heavy losses throughout the country, while the Liberal Democrats similarly failed to accomplish the surge they were hoping. Likewise, UKIP was virtually wiped out by a Conservative Party which has annexed their pro-Brexit, anti-globalist agenda.
The full results in England show a Conservative Party in ascendency and virtually every other party losing ground to them, which bodes well for Theresa May as we look towards the next few weeks. That’s still to come, though, and four weeks is an eternity in politics. Meanwhile, let’s look back on the big gay week that was.
The biggest news undoubtedly comes from two hotly contested and highly anticipated inaugural mayoral races. In the former Labour heartland of the West Midlands, gay Conservative Party candidate Andy Street made history as the first openly gay metro mayor in the country’s history. In the final round, he narrowly defeated former Labour MP Sion Simon with a majority of just over 4,000 votes.
Still, the historic nature of Mr Street’s victory coupled with the fact that a Tory won in the West Midlands makes this accomplishment even more remarkable. It is also no doubt terrifying for Jeremy Corbyn. He is desperately trying to be the party of tolerance and openness while also holding on to the traditional working class heartlands which aren’t quite as keen on his metropolitan inclusiveness.
It wasn’t all bad news for Labour, though. Andy Burnham won the Manchester mayoral race. The former Secretary of State for Health and the politician with the most beautiful eyes (or is it just me?) won just over 63% of the vote, making him one of the most important Labour leaders in the country. He stood against Jeremy Corbyn for the party leadership in 2015, when his own questionable history on LGBT equality was made an issue by opponents. Mr Burnham has since said that his support for gay rights has led to rifts in his family, but that he does unequivocally support equality.
This is especially important as hate crimes have soared in Greater Manchester over the past few years, increasing by a third between November 2014 and October 2015. How Mr Burnham addresses the safety of the LGBT community, particularly in Manchester’s Gay Village, will be of vital interest to the local community and the LGBT activists across the nation.
The local elections were, as I said, the major story of the week – but they weren’t the only one. Of particular interest is the happenings in Ilford North, a key marginal constituency in North London. The seat is currently held by openly gay Labour MP Wes Streeting, a former NUS president and critic of Jeremy Corbyn. Before 2015 it was represented by Conservative Lee Scott, who is standing to take back the constituency this year. In an effort to help him do this, Ukip have decided not to stand a candidate of their own and instead back Mr Scott. Meanwhile, the Greens announced last week they are also standing down in order to back Mr Streeting.
Ilford North looks poised to become a – perhaps the – key Brexit battleground in London, if not the whole of England. Mr Streeting supported the Remain campaign but now accepts that Brexit is happening – though he’s hardly supporting the Hard Brexit of Theresa May. Ukip, on the other hand, see in Mr Lee and Mrs May two people who will support their vision of a Britain free from Europe and cracking down on immigration – that is, the Hard Brexit everyone keeps banging on about.
By standing down, Ukip all but guarantees Mr Lee’s victory. They took over 4,000 votes in 2015 – far more than Mr Streeting’s slim majority of 589. Looking at the results of the local elections, we see that the Conservatives have basically gobbled up Ukip like a late-night kebab.
It’s worth asking why the Conservative Party – long derided by Ukip as too pro-Europe – is suddenly so appealing to them under Theresa May. The Tories’ Brexit strategy is so similar to Ukip’s own platform that they’re willing to stand down, which should worry anyone who doesn’t want a Brexit harder than Tom Daley’s tushy.
While we’ll undoubtedly be talking about Ilford North more as the campaign carries on, there were some stories that flew under-the-radar this week but which are of particular interest to the LGBT community. The Tories selected former LGBT+ Conservatives vice chair Emma Warman to contest the relatively safe Green seat of Brighton Pavilion, currently represented by the Greens’ only MP (and co-leader), Caroline Lucas. Elsewhere in Brighton, the Tories are standing a woman who claims to be able to heal the deaf by prayer against openly gay Labour MP Peter Kyle. (No, seriously, they are.) Labour is standing openly trans Sophie Cook against anti-equality Tim Loughton in the Tory safe seat of East Worthing and Shoreham. And SNP MP John Nicholson claims an opponent accused him of hiring his wife to manage his constituency office. Only one problem: Mr Nicholson is openly gay and partnered. “My boyfriend will be so angry when he finds out,” he tweeted.
So that’s the second big gay week that was of this general election. If you’ve any tips you’d like me to consider for next week, please don’t hesitate to get in touch at [email protected]. Until then, no matter which colour of the rainbow your rosette is, have a gay ole’ time out on those doorsteps.
Skylar Baker-Jordan is THEGAYUK’s political contributing editor and has bylines at HuffPost, The Independent and the Daily Dot.