Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has likened the Liberal Democrats to “the BNP or the EDL” over the fact that their Glee Club sang a song at conference about the 1983 Bermondsey by-election.
Tatchell stood as the Labour Party candidate in the election against Lib Dem Simon Hughes. The Liberal campaign was accused of homophobia for some of the tactics employed, which included male canvassers wearing badges saying ‘I’ve been kissed by Peter Tatchell’.
Hughes apologised for the campaign in 2006, and said that he himself was bisexual.
At the Lib Dem conference in Brighton almost two weeks ago, Hughes was spotted among chorus members of the Glee Club singing a song about the notorious by-election.
Lyrics included: “Tatchell went, and Tilley came and said that he was straight”.
Speaking to John Nicolson on talkRADIO, Tatchell said: “It’s not something you’d expect from a mainstream political party”.
“What’s your reaction that Simon Hughes was singing songs about the Bermondsey by-election which I’d have thought should be one of the most shameful episodes in his whole life?” asked Nicolson.
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“Male liberal candidates went around on the doorsteps wearing lapel stickers saying ‘I’ve been kissed by Peter Tatchell’ to plant the fact that I was gay and to stir homophobia,” Tatchell responded.
“They also used the tactic on the doorstep saying to voters, ‘we don’t mind that Peter Tatchell’s gay and supports gay rights’, so it was in a backhanded way of reminding voters I’m gay and support gay rights.
'It's like something the BNP would sing'
Simon Hughes. Image: Getty
“Most commentators say it was the dirtiest, most violent, and certainly the most homophobic election in Britain in the 20th century. Gay News at the time described it as the most sustained vilification of a gay public figure since Oscar Wilde."
The party should ‘know better’ than to sing about it, he added.
“It was absolutely gruesome. I’m very surprised and shocked and disappointed that the Lib Dems would want to sing a song about that disgraceful campaign at their recent conference.
“They should know better, and having apologised for their behaviour, they shouldn’t be repeating it.”
Tatchell confirmed that Hughes did apologise, but when Nicolson quoted some of the lyrics, he said: “It sounds like the kind of song the BNP would sing, or the EDL or one of those other far right organisations. It’s not something you’d expect from a mainstream political party.”
He added that he was told Hughes had had homosexual experiences at the time of the election.
“It’s so shocking and I knew - I was tipped off during the by-election that Simon Hughes was gay, but I chose not to stoop to that level.
“I thought, ‘whatever they do to me, I’m going to behave in a polite, courteous, ethical way. I’m not going to stoop to those kind of tactics’.
“And it is really sad that all those decades later, the Lib Dem Glee Club and even Simon Hughes apparently himself thought it was appropriate to sing that kind of song about what is surely one of the most disgraceful election campaigns in the last 100 years.”