Britain shifts equalities role and makes gay man schools minister
Analysts believe moving equalities ministry may make same-sex marriage equality bill more likely in near future but new minister under question for poor gay voting record
The British minister with overall responsibility for equality, including LGBT diversity, has been changed in the cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister David Cameron.
Cameron’s reorganization today (4 September) is the first major rejig of the government since the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition took power in 2010.
It also sees the return to government of Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament David Laws MP, who was forced from his role as Chief Secretary to the Treasury over an expenses scandal involving his gay partner in 2010. He will be Minister for Schools.
Meanwhile overall responsibility for Women and Equalities has been shifted from Home Secretary Theresa May to new Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Secretary Maria Miller MP.
But Conservative Miller has either voted against or been absent for all major LGBT rights votes since her appointment to public office in 2005. She has also failed to as yet come out in support of Equal Marriage rights in the UK according to records held by The Coalition for Equal Marriage.
It’s not the first time the job has been given to an MP with a poor record on LGBT rights – Theresa May was also criticized for this when she took over the role but was later felt by some to have embraced the job.
And more recently, in May, Miller did urge Cameron not to drop his support for same-sex marriage after right-wing Conservatives urged him to ditch the measure.
Also in practice the day-to-day work on equalities is carried out by junior Liberal Democrat minister Lynne Featherstone MP as Parliamentary Under Secretary for Equalities.
Featherstone, by contrast, has been praised for her passion on LGBT issues.
While news about the reshuffle continues to break, Gay Star News currently believes Featherstone will stay in the job and shift from the Home Office to the DCMS to be Miller’s understudy.
At present DCMS has no Liberal Democrat minister, unlike other government departments.
The equalities role had previously sat with the Department of Work and Pensions at a time when much of the emphasis was on workplace diversity.
When the Home Office took charge of it, it was seen as an opportunity to tackle hate crime.
Now the link with the DCMS may allow for more cultural development of the LGBT community and action on homophobia in sport, which Featherstone has been particularly involved in.
The sport and culture ministry is much more junior in the government hierarchy than the Home Office which is a major pillar of state in Britain.
But it may have move time to bring in same-sex marriage equality legislation in England and Wales, which Conservative Prime Minister Cameron and his Liberal Democrat deputy Nick Clegg have both personally pledged to do by 2015.
Having said that, the DCMS is also likely to be busy in coming months with the outcome of the Leveson Inquiry, which has been examining media ethics following a series of scandals, and a review of the BBC coming up soon.
Meanwhile gay Lib Dem MP David Laws has made his much touted return to government, but this time as Minister for Schools rather than as an economic guru.
Some people felt he might be given a more direct role in trying to bring the UK out of its current double-dip recession. But he has also been given, unusually, a second job as Minister of State in the Cabinet Office which will allow him to develop policy more generally. And this may allow him to use his much-spoken-of economic prowess more effectively.
The former investment banker only held his Treasury role for 17 days after the general election in 2010 saw the formation of the current coalition government.
He had to resign when The Daily Telegraph revealed he had claimed more than £40,000 in five years on parliamentary expenses to fund a second home, despite actually renting rooms owned by what the paper described as his ‘secret lover’ and ‘long-term partner’, James Lundie.
Although his behavior after the revelations was described as ‘exemplary’ he was still suspended for seven days as an MP in punishment.
In the Department for Education, he will be responsible for schools under overall Education Secretary Michael Gove who remains in post.
While Gove’s response on LGBT issues has sometimes been negative, it is possible Laws could use his role to take real action on tackling homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, thus raising education standards.
UPDATE: With the reshuffle continuing, it has just been announced that another openly gay MP, Policing Minister Nick Herbert, has resigned from the government.
Reports indicate that Prime Minister Cameron had wanted to reshuffle Herbert to a role in the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. However this does not appear to have been attractive to the leading gay Conservative.
The news is more surprising as Herbert was seen by many as a high-flyer, hotly tipped for a senior role in the reshuffle.