27 January 2006


I was a student at the London College of Printing at Elephant and Castle in 1982-83, which meant that the Bermondsey by-election was very much on my patch. I have a vivid memory of the Labour rally in the LCP refectory at which Michael Foot (a little belatedly) turned out to back Peter Tatchell, the Labour candidate he had previously disowned. (He had apparently got him confused with Peter Taaffe, the editor of Militant.) I was an anarchist at the time and heckled Foot -- I shouted "Whitewash!" when he explained his previous disavowal of Tatchell -- and was told by a burly proletarian steward to shut up, get out or have my face smashed in. I shut up ... hey, but did I get feted like Walter Wolfgang?

Whatever, I'm intrigued by Simon Hughes -- who beat Tatchell in that by-election as a Liberal and has been MP for the constituency ever since -- coming out as gay. Bermondsey was an utterly vicious by-election campaign, and the viciousness was all down to Tatchell's opponents -- in what had been a safe Labour seat -- making a big thing of his sexuality.

I don't remember the leaflet "Simon Hughes: The Straight Choice" that has been much mentioned in the past 48 hours as evidence of Hughes's hypocrisy, but that's small beer. It was playing the anti-gay card but with a measure of restraint.

I do however remember the "Which Queen Are You Voting For?" stickers and posters that were all over the lamp-posts and billboards in the last week of the campaign -- pics of Peter T and HM the Q next to the slogan. I might well have one somewhere, though it would take some time to dig it out.

I'd always thought that it was the old corrupt Labour right, supporters of Bob Mellish, the retiring MP, that was behind those. Their candidate in the by-election was the Tammany Hall Labourite John O'Grady, former leader of Southwark council, and their campaign was defined by its disgusting and crude homophobia. O'Grady toured the constituency on a horse-drawn brewer's dray, if I remember rightly, singing a song about how Tatchell liked it up the bum.

But today in the Independent, Tatchell is quoted as saying that he was told by a Liberal activist that the "Which Queen Are You Voting For?" material was put out by Hughes's campaign.

If Tatchell is right, Hughes is a complete scumbag.

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