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Wednesday, 2 August, 2000, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Ivan Massow: Gay abandon

William Hague's Conservative Party claims to be a broad church, but with the defection of millionaire adviser Ivan Massow, the Tories have lost a unique symbol of their diversity. By BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley.

Ivan Massow - fox-hunter, champion of contemporary arts, "pink pound" millionaire, cosmopolitan dandy and provincial gent - admits he's a difficult character to pin down.

Ivan Massow
Massow: Ex-Tory pin-up
"There's a business part, a country part, a gay part, an Establishment part, and some of them seem to contradict each other."

The 32-year-old's decision to turn his back on the Conservative Party and join New Labour, adds to these contradictions.

Beloved of the broadsheet press and blessed with a model's good looks - Massow says he was dogged by talent scouts in his youth - the entrepreneur became something of a Tory pin-up.

Instruction in the art of heterosexuality by my own parents, TV culture, school bullies and over-zealous young ladies, did nothing to school me in the art of heterosexuality.

Ivan Massow on Section 28
However, a man with the ear of William Hague, but who also counts militant gay activist Peter Tatchell among his close friends, was never likely to win the trust of the party's traditionalists.

Massow has been waging bitter trench warfare with what he calls the "loony right" for some time, damning their attitudes in his articles for The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator.

He was particularly vexed by his party's stance on the place of homosexuality in the school curriculum, the notorious Section 28.

Clause for concern

"I've always stood on a platform to call for Clause 28 to be abolished and that cannot change," Mr Massow told BBC News Online when he was mooted as the Tory candidate for London mayor.

Exasperated by fellow Tory Baroness Young's staunch campaign to block the repeal of the controversial law, Mr Massow publicly dubbed her a "nasty old reactionary crow".

Baroness Young
Baroness Young was called a "reactionary crow"
"Sometimes I wonder how many times, as a child, I put my hand in the fire before finally learning that it hurt and it was not worth doing," Massow once said of his passion for restoring historic country houses.

Now, he may no longer wish to get his fingers burned turning around a "nasty and intolerant" Tory Party.

Mr Massow is no stranger to intolerance. John Massow, the man who rescued a 12-year-old Ivan from an abusive father and stepfather, is said to have had little contact since his adopted son came out.

Pink pound pioneer

Professional, as well as personal considerations, may also have played their part. Mr Massow has said endorsing intolerance on gay issues would not only be hypocritical, but "occupational suicide".

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell
Activist Peter Tatchell is one of Massow's friends
Mr Massow built his reputation, and fortune, by founding one of the first UK companies to offer insurance to gay men and people with HIV - a market once shunned by traditional mainstream firms.

From operating as a one-man operation out of a squat in north London, Massow Financial Services now boasts a staff of 30 and swish offices in Covent Garden.

Ivy league

The Ivy, a near-by fashionable restaurant and a favourite haunt of the rich and famous, has become Mr Massow's "works canteen".

Journalists have keenly debated whether the business actually turns a profit, or if its founder indeed qualifies as a multi-millionaire.

Tory leader William Hague
William Hague and Ivan Massow are in accord over the Pound
However, Mr Massow continues to attract important clients and enjoy the trappings of wealth.

Leaving his squat days behind, he now owns several country properties and - having sold his 700,000 pied de terre - now rents a Mayfair pad with Michael Portillo's biographer, Michael Gove, and Tory councillor, Nicholas Boles. "It's like Tory Friends," he jokes.

Compassion and culture

Despite his famously sharp suits, and the privileged circles he now moves in, Mr Massow was often painted as a "compassionate" Conservative.

He is involved with the mental health charity MIND and led fund-raising for the Soho bombing appeal.

Ivan Massow and Mo Mowlam
M and M: Can Mo help the defector feel at home?
Mr Massow also trained as a Samaritan after his partner, James Knight, committed suicide.

Though Mr Massow may not share his urbane, or urban, tastes with some of those in the Tory Party - he is chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) - he may not fit easily into Labour either.

"I was always a natural Conservative and a serious little boy. I was chairman of the local Young Conservatives at 14."

Labour's newest member is pro-hunting - indeed he is Master of the Cokeham Bloodhounds - and a vocal advocate of keeping the Pound.

Mr Massow may think being at odds with the Labour leadership on these issues, is better than compromising his views on gay issues.

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See also:

02 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Tory adviser defects to Labour
02 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Tory defector targets Hague
01 Dec 99 | UK Politics
Gay Tory stays in mayor race
03 Dec 99 | UK Politics
Tories split over gay rights sacking
02 Aug 00 | UK Politics
A trio of defections
15 Jun 00 | Scotland
Tory defector held Labour card
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