Homophobic smears hit Leicester South by-election

It’s become a grim feature of many Parliamentary campaigns for around the last decade to see last minute anonymous smear leaflets to appear over the Liberal Democrat policies for sexual equality and toleration.

The leaflets often vary in approach and the one that is just going out in Leicester South ahead of tomorrow’s by-election takes a particularly pernicious twist by pretending to be a Lib Dem leaflet promoting gay rights and distributed in very heavily Asian areas only:

A similar smear was tried in the previous Leicester South by-election and the by-election team’s response this time round is, “This a fake leaflet maliciously designed to incite hatred. It is disgusting attempt to provoke hate during the last days of a political campaign. It has no place in politics and it has no place in society. Some of this leaflet is completely true and we are very proud of our record in championing gay rights”.

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  • “Some of this leaflet is completely true …”

    Actually, isn’t nearly all of it true? Apart from the business about 20% of the membership and the description of David Laws as a front bencher, which bits are inaccurate? Granted the part about Nick Clegg being voted “sexiest leader” _seems_ unbelievable, but apparently it really did happen.

  • So, not knowing much about the Lib Dems, I’m forced to ask why is this a smear? Obviously some of it is factual or there wouldn’t have been the comment starting “Some of this leaflet is completely true and we are very proud ….”.

  • Ah yes, that will be our “progressive natural allies” in the Labour Party.

  • chris_sh: Much of it is not factual – the 20% of members bit, for a start!

  • What exactly is a “committed homosexual”?

    I hope this nastiness backfires.

  • @Adam:
    Well, that was one of the reasons I asked really as that and the “Clegg is sexiest” bit is the only bits that I could see that I didn’t know about. NC told us (prior to the election) that the LDP would make schools teach that homosexuality is normal and give rights for civil marriage for gay couples.

    Now obviously you didn’t win the election so you won’t implement those policies, but surely they haven’t just gone away? If there was a GE tomorrow and you won, would you introduce those things and, if so, then surely you should be proud of it regardless of where it is distributed?

  • @Tabman
    Evidence? Given the reference to the telegraph I would think it comes from your buddies on the right.

  • As well as the 20% there’s that Simon Hughes isn’t homosexual and that David Laws isn’t (any longer) a frontbencher.

    Far more likely to be from Labour and their allies than the Tories and theirs, I’d say.

  • Irfan Ahmed 4th May '11 - 10:26pm

    A disgusting leaflet, the people responsible should be found and should be held to account for what they have done.

  • Andrea Gill 4th May '11 - 10:58pm

    Sickened by anyone who thinks the leaflet is disgusting

  • David Allen 4th May '11 - 11:22pm

    “Sickened by anyone who thinks the leaflet is disgusting”

    I’m sickened by anyone who thinks that distributing a fake leaflet – whatever the contents – is OK

  • Jedibeeftrix

    Actually I have no strong opinion as to the source of this reprehensible leaflet. It reads more right wing nutjob to me than evil leftist mastermind but who can tell? Certainly not Tabman with his utterly unsubstantiated smear.

  • @chris_sh: I hope the Lib Dems’ policies to improve LGBT rights are implemented! If another party has a problem with it or thinks that drawing attention to it will hurt the Lib Dem cause, I’m happy for them to do so publicly and accountably, not by faking up a (rather inflammatory in tone) leaflet in someone else’s name.

  • Philip Rolle 5th May '11 - 1:41am

    It’s a naughty leaftlet indeed, but I have to say there were a couple of phrases that made me smile.

    Bit like the Daily Mail. Vile, but admirable.

  • Aren’t lib dem party hq saying that they’d prefer attention was not drawn to their progressive stance on gay rights because it might lose them votes in homophobic areas? The argument that the leaflet will stir up hatred relies on the assumption that talking about gay rights will antagnoise people. Maybe so, but this is something any progressive worth their salt should challenge robustly. Not try and avoid.

    And stop blaming Labour for everything, your performance today will be due to the party’s leadership and actions over the last 12 months.

  • Andrea Gill 5th May '11 - 6:56am

    David Allen – did I say distributing fake leaflets is ok? No, I didn’t, and please don’t try to claim I was.

    But we should be proud of our commitment to equality and lgbt rights, not sickened by the contents of a fake leaflet that is mostly accurate (aside from the comment about our front bench).

  • Andrea Gill 5th May '11 - 6:59am

    And Andrew/jedi it does remind me a bit of the (more exaggerated) Dr Death leaflets Tory right wingers used against Evan Harris. (At least that’s who I thought were behind it at the time)

  • @Dan Falchikov Asian areas may be a strong Labour demographic and so weakening potential LD support may be in their interest but kicking out a potential LD prop could be in any party’s interest. You could argue it’s a perfect stunt for the tories to commit with as the LDs lose support due to the leaflet and then Labour gets tagged with presumed guilt because of their presence in Asian areas and lose support as well. But then there’s little other than conjecture to back that up and that’s useless.

    I’d avoid trying to tag any party with the responsibility for producing and distributing this leaflet, especially in the absence of any proof. It lowers the argument and in some respects, smearing other parties with the blame is little better than the smear itself.

  • erm why on earth would anyone now be challenged by a Lib Dem Candidate whatever his /her religion Muslim Christian Jew? All smear leaflets should be condemed and they generally backfire, but hey! who’d be a Lib Dem candidate today.

  • I’m in two minds about this. Firstly, whoever produced it is beneath contempt for attempting to twist facts (and make up others) to cost the Lib dems votes. Secondly, I could only really see homophobic bigots witholding their vote for the Lib dems because of this and therefore must ask if the vote of a bigot is one to be chased or cherished ??

  • @Andrea Gill Posted 5th May 2011 at 6:56 am

    Thank you – I was beginning to wonder if I’d stepped into a parallel universe, how can it be a smear if it is something you believe in.

    I was wrong about Simon Hughes as I thought he come out as gay but it turns out that he came out as a bi. Having said that, has anyone actually bothered to ask him if he feels that he has been smeared by being labelled as gay? (I some how think the question would elicit a “what planet are you on” stare).

    Likewise, David Laws was front bench, isn’t now, but it seems he may be back after the next reshuffle – so that’s hardly a smear either.

    So it would seem that the main problem with the leaflet is that it may cost votes, which is a bit of a moral maze for some, e.g. if we don’t talk about it because we’re afraid of being seen as campaigning for these things, then aren’t we the ones being homophobic. If we say that we won’t talk about it because it may cause problems in asian areas, then aren’t we being rascist as we’re tarring a whole community with the same brush. Instead everyone runs around screaming smear and demanding heads roll in other parties..

    Perhaps it would be better to adopt a “so what” approach, if you’re challenged on the door step you can always point out that this is the same type of tolerance that actually tries to make the asian community welcome in our Country and it would be hard to have one with out the other.

  • I think you are mistaken – it’s not just in the last decade. As I recall, it started in 1983, during the Southwark & Bermondsey by-election. From Peter Tatchell’s website:

    “The Liberals fought a very dirty campaign during the Bermondsey by-election.

    “Some of their male canvassers went around the constituency wearing lapel stickers emblazoned with the words ‘I’ve been kissed by Peter Tatchell’, in a blatant bid to win the homophobic vote.

    “On the doorsteps they spread false rumours that I was chair of the local gay society – no such society existed.

    “Simon’s election leaflets described him as “the straight choice.”

    “A party member involved in the Liberal campaign in 1983 recently confessed to me that the Liberals were behind the anonymous and illegal campaign leaflet, ‘Which Queen Will You Vote For?’, which ridiculed my sexuality and invited local voters to have a go at me by listing my home address and phone number. After that leaflet was distributed around the constituency, there were dozens of attacks on my home and I was deluged with hate mail, death threats and obscene, homophobic phone calls.

    How appalling!

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th May '11 - 1:50pm

    What is in this leaflet is not much different from how the Liberal Democrats are reported in THE Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express (if it still exists), Daily Telegraph. One or two aspects of our policy are taken out of context, exaggerated, and put as if that’s all we stand for. The leaflet is a lot more truthful than any of the “No to AV” material I’ve seen (it would be hard to be less truthful).

    The “taking the bits of your opponents’ policies and explaining them to voters who won’t like them approach” was famously taken by Tower Hamlets Liberals, and was the reason they were disciplined, but at least they had the guts to admit on the literature that it was theirs and claimed it was never their intention that it should be taken as genuine Labour Party material. I think the response from our campaign team was wrong. I would have put the sentence they have put last first, and toned down the rest of the language, putting the emphasis on “taking things out of context” rather than on “disgusting” and “malicious”, as using those words does give the impression we are ashamed of our policies on these matters.

    On Fiona’s point about the Bermondsey by-election, she takes it from Peter Tatchell’s website, but I spent many days working in that by-election. Here’s some points:

    1) Right up until the last week of the campaign, it was seen as a contest between Tatchell, the official Labour candidate who had been denounced as unacceptable by his own party leader, and an Independent Labour candidate supported by the former Labour MP. The two candidates named Hughes (one Liberal, the other Conservative) were written off as also-rans who would both get similarly derisory shares of the votes.

    2) Many Liberals were inspired to turn out and work for Simon Hughes precisely because of the homophobic nature of the independent Labour campaign, determined to make sure that the independent Labour candidate would not win. The candidate we most wanted to see humiliated was that candidate – O’Grady – not Tatchell. We were so successful that O’Grady has been forgotten and much that was his campaign’s responsibility has been falsely attributed to the Liberal campaign.

    3) The “I’ve been kissed by Peter Tatchell” badges were a private joke from a few gay Liberals. They were not an official part of the campaign, they were not issued to canvassers, I did not see anyone wearing one while canvassing.

    4) I was the first person to find a “Which Queen would you vote for” leaflet in a doorway and bring it back to the Liberal HQ. From the reaction of the people there, I do not think they were responsible for it.

    5) There was no leaflet describing Simon Hughes as “the straight choice”. There was a leaflet where the words “a straight choice” were used, but these words very clearly referred to the election as a whole and not to any particular candidate, and very clearly were intended to reflect the fact as indicated by canvassing that there were two candidates in close contention to win, and all the other had fallen well behind. The phrase “a straight choice” has a common and well-known meaning in English which has nothing to do with choice of gender in partners. It was a phrase then very common on Liberal literature in situation where the Liberal were in close contention and wanted to appeal to supporters of parties who looked unlikely to win to consider a tactical vote for the Liberals. The phrase now more commonly used in party literature in this situation is “a two-horse race”, this is used because of the false accusations made about the previous commonly used phrase following the Bermondsey by-election. I am pretty sure I distributed a bundle or two of the “Straight Choice” leaflets myself, but I do not recall when they were being handed out anyone sniggering or winking or giving any other indication that there was a knowing use of the phrase other than the one then standard in Liberal “squeeze” leaflets.

  • Dan Falchikov/Matthew Huntbach

    If there was nothing untoward in that election then why did Hughes apologise?

  • Sorry, but I don’ think you can really excuse this leaflet, even if some of its contents are true.

    FIrstly it is simply wrong to put out fake leaflets on the behalf of your opponents, deceptive and a really low tactic. Inexcusable in itself.

    But the fact of the matter is that this leaflet was cleverly calculated to get to people. Whilst it might be true that the lib dems support gay rights more than the other party, and that it is also great that many gay people support the lib dems, no party would ever put out leaflets entirely devoted to matters of sexuality because that is to in your face. A party which is made to appear one which makes its central issue that of sexuality would turn me off for sure, and I fully support gay rights. It’s just human nature to react badly to have matters of people’s sexuality just pushed upon us, and the way that this leaflet is written is deliberately designed to annoy people. Not because they’re bigots, but because they don’t care.

  • Dan, Peter Tatchell, or the “embittered old lefty” you refer to, actually said this in 2006:

    “Simon Hughes is the best of the Lib Dem leadership candidates. If I was a party member, he’d get my vote. I want to see a stronger lead on social justice and green issues. Despite his recent drift to the centre, Simon is the contender most likely to move the Liberal Democrats in a progressive direction.”

    This endorsement comes from Peter Tatchell, the former Labour candidate, who was defeated by Simon Hughes in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election – regarded by many commentators as the dirtiest and most violent election in Britain in the last 100 years.

    Mr Tatchell, now a member of the Green Party, says it is “time to forgive and move on.”

    “I am on the left of the Green Party. I don’t support the Lib Dems, but if I was a member I would vote for Simon as leader” said Tatchell.

    I think you should apologise for your remarks directed at Peter Tatchell.

    I am not rewriting history. I lived in Southwark & Bermondsey at the time, and recall the vicious nature of the campaign very well.

    There probably is no record of homophobic Liberal leaflets, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. They were anonymous – just like the one being circulated in Leicester South.

    I remember receiving mocked-up “Labour” leaflets making outrageous claims at every local and national election from 1983 – 1992, which was the last election while I lived there. They were all obviously Liberal/Lib Dem as the Tories (or indeed any other party, including Labour) barely existed in Southwark during that time.

    For a large part of the mid eighties many local Labour Wards were suspended and inoperative through Militant infiltration.

    And by the way, the T&GWU dockers marched for Powell in the sixties, not the eighties.

  • PinkPaper who are named at the bottom to give the leaflet a sense of authenticity have just denied any involvement


  • lol

    I’ve just been looking at various claims and counter claims of various parties

    Just google lib dem smear train to find one of this pages posters

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th May '11 - 5:07pm


    If there was nothing untoward in that election then why did Hughes apologise?

    The exact words of Simon Hughes given in Pink news are “Where there were things that were inappropriate or wrong, I apologise for that”. Although Pink News repeats the slur that there was a leaflet which used the words “the straight choice” of Simon Hughes, I repeat – there was not, and he is not saying there was. Neither is he agreeing to the slur about “I’ve kissed Peter Tatchell” badges being issued to canvassers as part of the campaign.

    I am not myself saying there was nothing inappropriate in that campaign, but I am saying that the main accusations thrown are wrong. I think the use of the words “straight choice” were inappropriate, even if done innocently, because of the possibility they might be taken otherwise, but I am saying it is a lie to say the leaflets used the word “the” with these and meant it to refer to Simon Hughes. There was a fair amount of joshing amongst campaigners, such as the joke with the badges, which I think we can now recognise was in bad taste.

    It’s 28 years later, and yet these lies are still being told. I guess Simon hoped by apologising for what was much less than these lies it might help stop them being spread, but I see not.

    Those who are too young to remember those days may not realise how much what we would now see as appalling homophobia was then still thought a laughing matter. People of all political views then did tell jokes, and jokes were broadcast on television, of a sort no-one would do now if they wished to maintain a liberal reputation. In fact, because of the Thorpe affair and general Liberal Party support for gay rights, right up to the early 1980s, it was almost standard if a bunch of Labour Party people met a bunch of Liberal Party people for the Labour party people to shout out homophobic remarks, the most common being “Backs against the wall, here come the Liberals”. While I was an undergraduate student 1978-81, the Labour club in my university put out a spoof version of the leaflet the Liberal club used to circulate which was full of homophobic jokes. It was the bad taste left after the Bermondsey by-election which led people to realise how offensive such things were.

  • “It was the bad taste left after the Bermondsey by-election which led people to realise how offensive such things were.”

    Quite. Even worse, the phenomenal success of the Liberal Bermondsey by-election campaign led people to realise just how effective such tactics are.

  • “I think the response from our campaign team was wrong. I would have put the sentence they have put last first, and toned down the rest of the language …”

    As a matter of fact, as quoted by Political Scrapbook, the sentence placed last in the post above DID come first in the party’s response. It appears that Mark Pack has swapped around the order of the sentences for some reason:

  • @Dan

    You may also see the leaflets from rebel Labour candidate John O’Grady

    I missed this earlier but it was interesting that you brought up the name John O’Grady


  • There’s very little about the leaflet that’s either untrue or that we could/shoudl resile from, surely?

    What’s wrong is the view that ‘asian’ areas would be likely to be influenced against the party being, it seems, accepted. What;s being done to counter that?

  • john Posted 6th May 2011 at 9:33 am

    “There’s very little about the leaflet that’s either untrue or that we could/shoudl resile from, surely?”

    Although I’m not a LD, I couldn’t agree more.

    “What’s wrong is the view that ‘asian’ areas would be likely to be influenced against the party being, it seems, accepted. What;s being done to counter that?”

    I sort of agree with Matthew Huntbach when he said “…. toned down the rest of the language, putting the emphasis on “taking things out of context” rather than on “disgusting” and “malicious”, except I think I would have gone farther and tried to turn it into something positive that the community could understand (see my previous comments on tolerance).

    As it is, I think the local party have made themselves look a bit daft – as if they’re trying to distance themselves from something they are supposed to believe in. After all, is there some sort of belief that the asian community don’t read papers, watch the news, talk to people about politics etc – because if they do then they must have had a good idea of what your beliefs were already.

  • Isn’t this the first time “a smear” could have been lifted from a party’s own literature? I said about the Lib Dem’s having a problem with two faced campaigning earlier and it seems to be a problem here to.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th May '11 - 9:37am


    Isn’t this the first time “a smear” could have been lifted from a party’s own literature?

    No, as I have said, Tower Hamlets Liberals got into trouble for circulating a leaflet containing material which was just local Labour Party policy, but put in a way and circulated to people who would not like it. They claimed the intention was just to draw attention to some of Labour’s policy, and readers would soon realise it was not a genuine Labour leaflet, so it was not an intention to deceive, and it did have the Liberal imprint on it.

    I said about the Lib Dem’s having a problem with two faced campaigning earlier and it seems to be a problem here too

    The situation in Tower Hamlets was the Labour Party saying one thing to white people, another to Bangladeshis. I think you will find this is very common in areas where there is a strong presence of people from an ethnic minority who tend to have conservative/illiberal views on some issues.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th May '11 - 2:33am


    Quite. Even worse, the phenomenal success of the Liberal Bermondsey by-election campaign led people to realise just how effective such tactics are

    Do you actually bother reading, or do you just react? You reply to one point I make in a way that completely ignores everything else I wrote. As I wrote in the last paragraph to which you were referring, back in the early 1980s, homoexuality was still often treated in a jokey way which would now be considered extremely offensive. But in therest of what I wrote, I am pointing out that the Liberal Bermondsey by-election campaign did NOT make use of any sort of attacks on Peter Tatchell for his homosexuality. I have argued this factually fronm the basis of having worked with this campaign. So, why after all I wrote, did you ignore that and just repeat your original allegations? You have not answered any of the points I raised against what you wrote.

  • Jonathan Hunt 9th May '11 - 11:04am

    Having been involved in the Bermondsey by-election (indeed, having first helped Simon be selected as the Liberal candidate when he was given a second chance) I can verify that what Matthew Huntbach says is essentially correct.

    John O’Grady (who died last year) had been Labour leader in Southwark for a dozen or so years, and was the former MP Bob Mellish’s appointed successor. It was O’Grady, the dockers’ leader, who drove a horse and cart round the constituency singing homophobic songs. He was until the last week of the campiagn regarded by all as the main challenger to Tatchell.

    Why Simon won was not because of any feelings of disgust among yer average Bermondsey resident but because of a switch in the opinion polls. In those days, polling was not the sophisticated scientific exercise it is today. Rather that a bunch of pollsters took their clipboards into the street and asked passers-by how they were going to vote.

    We got wind of this and Liberals masquerading as members of the public were happy to stop and tell them how they would vote. The resultant poll then fed on itself into other polls as voters switched to the person they believed could beat Peter Tatchell. Simon could and did. But many of the hundreds of supporters who flooded in were less sensitive, and I heard — and corrected — those asking voters: “Would you support a gay (not always the word used) Australian Markist?

    One problem was that after this, members of the homophobic and suspect on race right-wing dockers’ mafia switched their support to Simon as the best bastion against Lefties. Sadly, there are still influenetial members of the local party without a Liberal bone in their body.

    As to Tower Hamlets, my recollection is that the main problem was that a Focus story about mugging and street crime was accommpanied by an illustration of a black boxer. Labour used it to attack the best-yet devolution of power to neighbourhood councils the Liberal-controlled council had introduced.

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