How the Tories Became the Gay-Friendly Party; as the Government Backs Gay Marriage, a Unique - and Surprising - Insight into David Cameron's Thinking; ANALYSIS

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Byline: MICHAEL McMANUS

IT WAS announced yesterday that our Conservative-led Government is going to put same-sex partnerships and traditional civil marriage on to the same footing. After centuries of inequality, gay people and straight people will at last be equal before the law, and the doctrine of 'live and let live' will have won the day.

This has happened because David Cameron, a Tory Prime Minister, has driven the process forward.

I first met David 21 years ago this month, on my first day at work. For 18 months we worked closely together in the Conservative Research Department (CRD), jointly briefing Ministers as John Major took over from Margaret Thatcher and we strove to win a fourth term in office. David briefed on Labour and I briefed on the Lib Dems. David was always the star.

We all knew he was going places and would soon outstrip us, but there was remarkably little (if any) jealousy because he was a good boss and a good colleague, who trusted those around him and delegated wisely.

In fact everyone liked him - and being liked takes you a long way in life. Under its new director Andrew Lansley (David's boss in those days) the CRD was moving into a process of modernisation, with women in positions of responsibility, but it still had a reputation as a safe haven for Tory gays.

This was 1990 when casual words of intolerance were common, but I never heard David say a bad word against anyone on the grounds of their gender, race, sexuality - or indeed anything else. He always believed in good manners and considerate behaviour. Now he has translated that into policy.

Yet it was clear, with his very oldschool background and upbringing, that if he had ever met a gay person he probably hadn't even noticed.

It wasn't so much intolerance as indifference. David studied at Oxford in the Eighties, when the emergence of HIV-AIDS was having a dramatic effect on public opinion.

The tide of growing tolerance towards gays since the Fifties had turned back violently, and the Tories had sensed a political opportunity.

Labour had been infiltrated by the hard Left and nationally it was unelectable. Particularly in London, but elsewhere too, Labour was frittering away ratepayers' money on pet causes - and one of the worst things going on was young children being exposed to totally unsuitable, sexually explicit materials, mainly gay.

IT HAPPENED in only a handful of instances, but it gave the Tories a cause. Something must be done! What was done was Section 28, which ordained that local councils must not 'promote homosexuality or publish material for the promotion of homosexuality'. Section 28 banned councils from spending money on anything gayrelated and scorned gay partnerships as a 'pretended family relationship'.

As a young, new MP in 1960, Margaret Thatcher had been one of a tiny minority of Tory MPs to support gay rights, but now she turned back the clock and gays became secondclass citizens.

After the 1992 Election, David and I left Central Office to become special advisers to Ministers.

He was soon succeeded by George Osborne. …