Last week I wrote about the speeches given by various MPs during the equal marriage debate. I said I had never felt as proud of UK MPs as I did that day, and I meant that. Genuinely. But there’s one MP I am not proud of – my own MP, Derek Twigg; one of only 22 Labour MPs to vote against equal marriage.
Dear Mr Twigg,
Last Tuesday was a watershed in the relentless struggle of gay people in this country for equal rights. To be treated the same as every other citizen who just happens to have been born differently. You say on your website that you are honoured to continue to serve your constituents. Well last Tuesday, Mr Twigg, you failed miserably.
While I understand this was a free vote, I am still surprised that you flew in the face not only of party consensus, but also public opinion to vote against this bill. Who, exactly, were you representing when you placed your No vote? Not the Labour party; not the general public. Not even your own electorate. You think there aren’t gay people in your constituency? You think we don’t exist? I’m here to tell you, Mr Twigg, that we do. I can point you to half a dozen different LGBT organisations and support groups in Halton, none of which are funded by the local council. Funny, that.
I have never voted for you, and I never will. So perhaps it doesn’t matter that you’ve thoroughly pissed me off. That if you had your own way, I would remain a second-class citizen in my own country. You and I both know that your seat is a Labour stronghold; that you’re essentially free to do as you like because as long as you stand for Labour, you’re safe. Wouldn’t it be a better thing to use that power for good? There’s not many politicians who are as secure as you, why not take a stand, do the right thing and place yourself on the right side of history?
Because, Mr Twigg, you are undoubtedly on the wrong side. Your vote places you firmly with those dusty old images of frumpy men who have historically voted against women; against different races and ethnicities and cultures; and against homosexuals. Think how ridiculous those images of angry white men protesting black people drinking from their fountains look to modern eyes. How obsolete and redundant those men who denied women the vote. Welcome to the Good Old Boys’ Club, because you have just marked yourself as one of them.
Some MPs – and for all I know, you count yourself one of them – understood a free vote to mean they could cast a personal ballot. That they could let their own worldview sway their political decisions. That is not what a free vote is. You weren’t in the Commons that day as Derek Twigg the man, but as Derek Twigg the MP. Free vote or no, you had an absolute duty to represent the people of Halton – all of them. Me and those like me included. That’s why you were voted in; that is your purpose in the House. A Yes vote did not impact on any constituent who isn’t gay. It took no rights away from anybody. All it did was grant rights to those who for too long have been denied them. And you voted against that.
According to your website, your main concerns are housing and social inclusion. Unless we’re gay, right? Let’s just look at the definition of social exclusion, shall we?
Social exclusion refers to processes in which individuals or entire communities of people are systematically blocked from rights, opportunities and resources (e.g. housing, employment, healthcare, civic engagement, democratic participation and due process) that are normally available to members of society and which are key to social integration.
The resulting alienation or disenfranchisement is often connected to a person’s social class, educational status, relationships in childhood and living standards. It also applies to some degree to people with a disability, minorities, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities (e.g., the LGBT community), to the elderly, and to youth. Anyone who deviates in any perceived way from the norm of a population may become subject to coarse or subtle forms of social exclusion.
Sounds rather like your vote against same-sex marriage, doesn’t it?
Of course you were in a minority when you cast your vote, and you already knew that, didn’t you? Your No was a fruitless last stand, and perhaps you thought it didn’t matter one way or another because the Ayes had won before the voting even began. I say it counts more. It speaks volumes about you – as a man; as a politician – that you would choose to make that stand even in the face of certain defeat. That you couldn’t simply abstain, if it really meant so much to you, but instead you had to turn up and you had to cast your worthless vote.
Did you realise, when you did so, that you’d be in quite such a minority? Would you have acted differently, had you done so? It’s cold out on that ledge, isn’t it?
Last Tuesday you chose to show yourself a man without integrity or even basic human compassion. A man who was happy to stamp on the hopes and dreams of those who long for nothing more than to be treated as equal citizens. You defied your own party and undermined your own rhetoric to do so. You betrayed your own constituents. Remember that. We will.