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Tuesday, 8 October, 2002, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
Battle for Tory heart and soul
Steve Norris
Norris: Clash over section 28

Ex-Tory minister Steve Norris has mounted an impassioned defence of Conservative attempts to project a more tolerant image on gay rights and other personal morality issues.

Speaking at a fringe meeting in Bournemouth entitled "Are the Tories going soft?", the former London mayoral candidate said: "Equality of respect is not soft.


as far as I am concerned Conservatism depends entirely upon the family and family values

Peter Hitchens
"If that were a soft proposition we wouldn't as a party be making such a meal of it as we so often are."

In her opening speech at this year's annual conference, Tory chairman Theresa May said she wanted the party to shed their "nasty" image.

She called for an end halt to "glib moralising" and "hypocritical finger-wagging".

But her words did not go down well with some on the right of the party.

'Change or die'

And in a strongly-worded attack on the current leadership, right-wing columnist Peter Hitchens accused the party of caving in to the liberal agenda.

Peter Hitchens
Hitchens: 'Tories can change and still die'
Speaking at Tuesday's packed Guardian fringe meeting at Bournemouth's Hilton Hotel, Mr Hitchens said: "I get no sense whatsoever in any part of the Tory party of any anger or disgust at the government which faces it.

"Nor any sense that the Tory party understands the nature of its enemy or what its enemy intends to do to it."

He said Mrs May had told the Tories to "change or die".

But, comparing the Tories to the Church of England, he said: "It is also possible to change and die, if you change in the wrong way".

Gay Tories

He claimed the party had gone "disastrously soft" on a range of issues from the legalisation of cannabis to "national sovereignty and marriage".

And he clashed with Steve Norris on the issue of Section 28, the legislation preventing the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities.

Referring to Alan Duncan, who earlier this year became the first openly gay Tory MP, Mr Hitchens said it was not possible to be a "publicly-declared homosexual campaigning for equality of status for homosexuality and be a Conservative.

"Because as far as I am concerned Conservatism depends entirely upon the family and family values."

Marriage had to be given a "privileged" status in society and Section 28 - although not important in itself - was seen by those who wanted it scrapped as a way of equalising the status of gay relationships, he argued.

'Scrap section 28'

His words provoked an angry reaction from Mr Norris, who has been a leading Tory campaigner for the abolition of Section 28.


I am angry at the way democracy is being eroded and destroyed. That's my disgust at this Labour government

Eleanor Laing
The former transport minister said: "I find it offensive to look at issues like homosexuality on the basis that it is somehow evidence of a lack of moral fibre.

"That's what Section 28 outrageously does. We should be done with it."

'Equality of respect'

He said the message he wanted people to take away from this week's conference was that "we as a party want to make this a country based upon equality of respect.

"Equality of respect for every citizen, whether that citizen is male or female, young or old, or rich or poor, a citizen of the country or the town, gay or straight, Muslim, Christian or of no religion.

"And, frankly, whether there parents were married or single."

He added: "Equality of respect is not soft. If that were a soft proposition we wouldn't as a party be making such a meal of it as we so often are."

'Disgust'

Shadow education minister Eleanor Laing also insisted the Tories had not gone soft and were angry about the government.

Standing up to address the meeting, she said: "I am angry about the way in which this Labour government has cheated school children out of their exam results.

"I am disgusted by the way this Labour government has stopped reform of the health service, which is so badly needed because they are stuck in old-fashioned dogma."

She said she was also "outraged at the way the Labour government treats parliament and the way Tony Blair tries to stifle debate by cutting the hours in the Commons.

"I am angry at the way democracy is being eroded and destroyed. That's my disgust at this Labour government."


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07 Oct 02 | Education
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