Labour fumes over Tory ‘homophobia inaction’

By Alex Stevenson

Senior Labour figures have expressed their anger after David Cameron failed to sack a junior shadow defence minister who compared the dangers of gay sex to the dangers of the front line.

Julian Lewis had explained he opposed lowering the age of consent for gay sex from 18 to 16 for the same reasons those aged under 18 in the armed forces were not sent to the front line in places like Afghanistan.

In a letter to a constituent, he wrote: “There is a seriously increased risk of HIV infection arising from male homosexual activity.

“When it comes to legalising practices that involve serious physical risk, I believe the higher limit should apply. This is the reason why we no longer allow 16- and 17-year-olds into front-line situations in the armed forces, for example.”

Home secretary Alan Johnson quickly called on Mr Lewis to resign after extracts from the letter, seen by politics.co.uk, were published.

Mr Cameron was confronted about the issue in an interview broadcast on Wednesday evening. He said he had decided not to act against Mr Lewis because “he immediately came out and said that what he said was wrong, he voted the right way and he was embarrassed about it and he’s given interviews about it and I’m prepared to leave it there”.

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman called the case “another example of David Cameron’s camera on, camera off style of leadership”.

“No-one should be in any doubt that David Cameron cannot be trusted to stand up for gay rights because he is prepared to allow homophobia in his shadow ministerial team,” she said.

“David Cameron showed absolutely no commitment to gay equality, he should not be planning a government with Julian Lewis as a minister of defence or Chris Grayling as home secretary. This latest homophobic outburst is another sorry chapter.”

She was referring to Mr Grayling’s recent comment in support of bed and breakfast owners who are not prepared to accommodate same-sex couples.

Ben Bradshaw, Labour’s culture secretary, commented: “If Tory front benchers can get away with such homophobia when they are being extra careful during an election campaign, imagine what would happen if they were in government – free to let their outdated prejudices reign.”