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Stuart Andrew: An MP… who happens to be gay.

By Gordon Hopps

There are definitely more and more high profile gay MPs in Parliament these days. One of the new brand, and newly elected members of Parliament, is Conservative Stuart Andrew representing Pudsey, West Yorkshire who won the Labour held seat back in May 2010. He won it with the public knowing he was gay and he himself is very vocal about the subject having left the Tories when he was younger to join the Labour party because of their direction on gay issues. However, that liaison was short lived and he returned to the Conservative fold after a short period.

Being originally from Anglesey in North Wales, your background isn’t that of a typical Tory… so where did Labour fail you?

Whilst the Labour Party was a lot better on gay issues at that time, my philosophy was more about being a Conservative really. My view is, having been brought up on a council estate, that if you give people the tools to build lives for themselves they often do it really, really well… and I saw some good examples of that on my council estate. That’s why I’m a Tory.

What’s a typical day for an MP?

There isn’t such a thing actually, because it’s such a varied job and I’m just learning all about it really. When I’m in London there’s stuff going on in the chambers – from question times to debates on bills going through and you need to take part in those. Also, while I’m there I try and take up the campaigns that affect my constituency. When I’m back in the constituency, it is still just as varied. Like today I have this interview with you, then I go off to Pudsey Market for one of my surgeries, then over to Trinity and All Saints College to be quizzed by the students there, then a couple of meetings with individual constituents and then I’m speaking at a dinner this evening. They are long hours 8.30am to 11 at night.

The Gay Marriage Bill is soon to be debated in Parliament and some reckon that there may be over 100 MPs who are against it but you say it should pass through without much opposition. Why?

Just through talking to people in parliament. There are people, and I actually respect this, who have deeply held religious views, and who don’t want to support it, and that is absolutely fine. The reason why I think the bill will go through is because it’s not going to make it compulsory on the churches to provide gay marriage – what they are really doing is stopping the state from interfering. So, it’s up to the individual churches to make that decision. So, if they want to provide that service they can. I think that the total number of MPs in favour will be higher than those voting against it. We’re moving away from a civil partnership and bringing in a religious element and that’s where it is different. I think if this was compulsory, I don’t think you’d get it through Parliament. We’ve come a long way, and I give credit to the Labour Party here, and the fact that we are talking about Gay Marriage at all is a big thing.

Has it been handy for the Tories to be in a coalition with the Lib Dems because they have been able to take away all the flak from the unpopular government policy changes?

I think in fairness when I go around the constituency I take my fair share of flak. The fact is the coalition I think has been a good thing because we do actually get the best of both parties’ policies and bring those in. However, I wouldn’t say it was only the Lib Dems who are taking the flak. I know from my colleagues that it is tough, we have some very difficult decisions to make and people do want to know why we have to make them…. And they do bring us to account.

How difficult is it to go along with your Party’s policies, even when you don’t actually agree with them?

That is tough at times and I think that what you have to do is choose your battles wisely. However, the way I tend to do it is not to go on College Green and do interviews on television and in papers and be critical from the sidelines. I try to meet the minister concerned and try to change things from behind the scenes and I have found that is far more effective… and things have changed. They have listened and things have altered.

Now I’ve seen the poster saying that Life’s Better Under The Tories, did you have anything to do with that?

He looks at me quizzically – so I show him a copy.  Laughs – No I didn’t. I had nothing to do with that. (Laughs) I’d like to say it is me… but… it’s one of those fun things that the promo people at LGBTories occasionally come up with.

The labour MP and Shadow Minister Chris Bryant has recently said that the Stranger’s Bar in the House of Commons is getting like any bar in Rupert Street, that is, very gay indeed. Is he correct?

There’s something about politics that does attract many gay people… in fact I always noticed that in the Conservative Party, when we had our conferences, that they attracted many gay people. He’s slightly going over the top… and knowing Chris as I do… it was slightly tongue in cheek but it is a bit of a joke that goes around Parliament… yes.

Still on the subject of Mr Bryant, when he was lambasted in the Red Tops for having a Gaydar profile and a rather exotic image of him in his knickers… did you feel for him, think…mmmm I like what I see… or quickly get rid of your own links to these online community groups?

This happened before I was elected so I wasn’t there at the time. I think people talked about it in brief passing…

Briefs passing?

(Laughs) I don’t think anyone was that bothered.

When are we going to see you on Have I Got News For You – not a place where MPs usually do well, although some have made a great career move by guesting on it?

I don’t think they’ll want someone like me, they want someone far more high profile.

All you have to do is say something silly in Parliament and you’re on aren’t you?

The thing is that there is a fun side to the job but there is also a very serious side so, when I raise something in Parliament I want it to be taken quite seriously. That’s why I have often said I don’t want to be known as a gay politician I want to be known as a politician who happens to be gay. Why do we need that stamping on us? I want it to become the norm rather than… there’s something different about them so let’s point it out. We don’t say that David Cameron is the straight politician so I want it to become so equal that actually it doesn’t matter.

You have this busy lifestyle… what do you do to relax?

Very little time to relax, it is difficult finding the time, and what I am beginning to realise is that I have to start to get a bit better at managing my diary but I am a bit of a workaholic. I enjoy the job, working long hours but when I do get that break I suppose it’s just socialising with friends and a drink down the local.

How long have you and your partner Robin been together?

Ten years.

How did you meet him?

Funnily enough, I was working for a hospice over in Blackburn. One of the nurses had a twin sister who was involved in trying to be the British entrants for The Eurovision Song Contest, and Robin was the one who was organising that team. He is a massive Eurovision fan.

Who Isn’t? Isn’t it par for the course, being gay and liking Eurovision?

He’s a bit of a fanatic. We have a chest full of all the videos of the contests going back… well… his knowledge of it is actually quite scary.

So any plans to go to Eurovision?

We’ve been. We went to Latvia in 2003 and decided we’d spend a week there… that was a bit of a mistake… as there wasn’t a lot to do. However, the night itself was phenomenal. We decided to go with our Union Jacks, being as patriotic as possible, but it was the year that Jemini performed… and as soon as they got on stage, we knew it was going to go badly wrong. We were very tempted to dump our flags and pick up a Norwegian flag instead but we didn’t, we stayed loyal. After the event, wherever we went, because we still had our flag, people were shouting… “Great Britain, no points” and laughing, so not a great experience.

Do you have a mission statement for a gay audience?

It is important that we engage in political life as well… it’s not just about going on Pride marches. It is being part of the political system and I say if people have an interest in it, regardless of which party, then get involved because we do need more representation. It’s not going to happen unless people volunteer. I’ve been involved in politics for over 20 years and compared with what it used to be like to now there’s a huge difference and people would be welcomed.