Magazine article The Spectator

Fitting In

Magazine article The Spectator

Fitting In

Article excerpt

The new series of Radio Four's On the Ropes, featuring people who've been up against it, began in lively fashion this week (Tuesday) when John Humphrys introduced his guest with the words, `You don't see many insurance companies being promoted by its gay founder posing naked with his boyfriend but then you don't meet many businessmen like Ivan Massow.' My first thought on hearing this was, maybe it's just as well.

Massow, it might be remembered, is the homosexual, fox-hunting chairman of the Young Conservatives at the age of 14, who defected to Labour, whose business went bust and was revived successfully and who was forced out of the chairmanship of the Institute of Contemporary Arts for attacking conceptual art. `It is difficult for me to fit in with institutions for the sake of fitting in, to become a member of a club purely for the sake of being a member of that club,' he explained, with masterly understatement.

After a difficult childhood, which he didn't wish to go into for the entirely sensible reason that his family was still alive, he became an insurance clerk in Bristol at a time when he was coming to terms with his homosexuality. He was horrified to find that insurance companies discriminated against gays by insisting that they take HIV tests, and then turning down their applications for insurance and mortgages. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, and one can see both sides of it, he decided to set up his own insurance company specialising in policies for homosexuals.

After a merger, he was chairman only in name and the company collapsed; Massow had to rescue it, and the business became profitable again. The Tory party, or, more to the point, Shaun Woodward before he too switched to Labour, were casting around for 'colourful' people and alighted on Massow, courting him as a possible candidate for mayor of London. But Massow decided he didn't like the party's attitude to Section 28 banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools and its hostility to asylum seekers. 'I was trying to persuade the Tory party that if they could loosen their rhetoric on asylum, loosen their rhetoric on sexuality and stop being so aggressively Fifties moral ... maybe they could broaden their support. …

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