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John Redwood
"The chief whip had no choice."
 real 28k

Tory mayoral candidate Ivan Massow
"I personally believe that Section 28 is completely unworkable."
 real 28k

Friday, 3 December, 1999, 09:00 GMT
Tory MP sacked over gay row
Gay rights campaigners are dismayed by the news

The Conservatives are to appoint a new spokesman on London after sacking Shaun Woodward in a row over gay rights.

London Mayor
Mr Woodward was dismissed after refusing to back the party against Labour's plans to allow local authorities to promote homosexuality.

The opposition frontbench spokesman said he could not support Conservative policy, which seeks to keep Section 28 of the Local Government Act in place, as it might lead to teachers being unable to deal with homophobic bullying within schools.

Gay rights campaigners have already criticised the party's move and Labour has described it as intolerant.

Shaun Woodward: A matter of conscience
Party sources said that Mr Woodward had been assured a Conservative government would make sure the legislation was amended to take account of those concerns.

But Mr Woodward refused to support the shadow cabinet's current stance on Section 28 and was sacked.

In a letter to Tory chief whip James Arbuthnot, Mr Woodward wrote: "As a director of ChildLine, I know that bullying is a very serious problem in schools, particularly when it is directed at young people who may be unsure of their sexuality or simply on the end of ghastly taunts."

Mr Woodward, who is married with four children, said the party could not ignore the "voices of young people. The pain for those who are bullied is unbearable for the individuals concerned".

He added: "I wanted the present legislation not to be scrapped, but to be improved to end the discrimination.

"I do not wish to `promote' homosexuality. I simply want a decent environment for young people to grow up in and not be bullied because of their private sexual orientation."

Ivan Massow: Mayoral candidate is opposed to Section 28
Conservative transport spokesman John Redwood said the party had been correct in sacking Mr Woodward.

John Redwood: "I had hoped that Shaun Woodward would have accepted the party view on Section 28.

"We all certainly agree with him that bullying is unacceptable which I think was his particular difficulty, but unfortunately, too much appeared in the press and I think the chief whip had no choice but to ask him to express his thoughts from the backbenches."

The sacking also raises fresh questions for one of the party's new contenders for London mayor, Ivan Massow, who is openly gay and who also opposes Section 28.

Mr Massow told the BBC: "I personally believe that Section 28 is completely unworkable and sends out all the wrong messages, especially to young people.

"Shaun set up ChildLine, I work closely with the Samaritans - young adolescent males form the largest customers of the Samaritans."

Mr Massow will be allowed to run to become the party's mayoral candidate as he does not take the whip on parliamentary issues, as Mr Woodward did.

He said: "I probably am taking a bit of risk by taking such a hard stance on it, but it's one I've taken from the beginning."

Peter Tatchell of gay rights group Outrage! said: "It will dismay many in the gay community who believed that William Hague was committed to ditching the party's backward, homophobic past and implement a more tolerant, supportive attitude towards lesbians and gay men."

Labour local government minister Hilary Armstrong said the Tory leader "has shown that it is more important to him to act tough before his intolerant, right-wing colleagues than to show understanding".

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See also:
01 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Gay Tory stays in mayor race
31 Oct 99 |  UK Politics
Gay promotion ban to be lifted

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