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As the months pass, it seems that nothing will be able to save the ailing British Conservative Party from the final coupe de grace that the forthcoming British General Election will administer. Craig Young recounts how did got this bad and how much LGBTQ+ rights have had to do with it.

In 2010, the British Conservatives seemed to have finally left behind the extremism of the Thatcher years. New Prime Minister David Cameron presided over what was stated to be a ‘modernised’ centre-right party and three years later, it enabled the passage of same-sex marriage legislation in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland followed thereafter within their devolved parliaments.  However, there were warning signs too- British disabled communities were victimised by horrific cuts to Incapacity Benefits which adversely affected employment opportunities, residential stability, accessible transport and healthcare access.

Until 2016, all seemed well and then Cameron agreed to a referendum on British membership of the European Union, an obsession of many backbench Conservative MPs. Unexpectedly, the Leave side won the referendum and Britain left the European Union. As a consequence, Cameron resigned and the Conservative Party’s troubles began.

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Theresa May became Britain’s second female Prime Minister thereafter, and made a name for herself as an authoritarian Home Secretary when it came to the right to peaceful protest, surveillance and police intervention. She also sought to reduce immigration to the United Kingdom, restricting eligibility from non-EU applicants and their families. Insofar as LGBTQI+ rights went, she had previously been opposed to civil partnerships and inclusive adoption reform but in 2010, reversed her position on those issues and proposed to examine how LGBTQI+ participation in sports could be encouraged. Unfortunately, continued party disunity over Brexit and backlash against the Cameron and May government’s punitive benefit reforms and social service cuts meant that the 2017 UK election ended with a hung parliament and resurgent UK Labour Opposition. After further instability over Brexit ensued, May resigned and was replaced by the populist Boris Johnson.

Johnson was a former denizen of the tabloid Daily Telegraph, editor of the centre-right Spectator magazine, obsessed with Brexit and an incurable populist. He had served two terms as a moderately popular London Mayor (2008-2016), and then as Foreign Secretary under May’s premiership. Unfortunately for the United Kingdom, he then became entangled in a series of negligent, incompetent and opportunist policy missteps during the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to increasing pressure for his resignation. The axe fell in 2022.

During his hapless tenure, Johnson began a tiresome tradition of populist anti-transgender moral panic and crusades against trans healthcare access for minors, self-identification within official documents and curtailment of anti-LGBTQI+ conversion therapy. All of those occurred here in New Zealand with minimal debate.  Disgracefully, this populist obsession became entrenched and did not cease during the shortlived premiership of Liz Truss and the tenure of the subsequent Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak.   All to no avail for the Tories, as their mismanagement of the pandemic and destructive social policies have led to heavy by-election swings against them in formerly safe constituencies. People want to hear about what the governing party intends to do about the cost of living crisis, not about the latest tiresome, vindictive  Tory attack on the dignity and human rights of trans-Britons.

On May 22, the end finally dawned in earnest. Sunak called an election that current polls, prior by-election losses and the recent council elections indicate will decimate his party. Thankfully, this may also herald the downfall of particularly doctrinaire social conservative transphobes like former Home Secretary Suella Braverman and “Equalities Minister” Kemi Badenoch, although Braverman reportedly has leadership pretensions. Parliament will now be dissolved and the election proper will occur in July.

For Winston Peters, David Seymour, Bob McCoskrie, Brian Tamaki and anyone else in the antipodes who seeks to follow the Johnson trajectory, the lesson is plain. Populist antics are no substitute for substantive policy development. Indulge at your peril… and then face the consequences.

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