Broadcaster Iain Dale and former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s podcast usually deals with politics in a light-hearted way littered with blue humour and innuendos. Today though, the tone is a little more serious as they speak to human rights activist Peter Tatchell at the EICC.
Tatchell begins by speaking about the origins of his activism – a death penalty sentence in Australia that made headlines when he was fifteen and that he felt, correctly, was a miscarriage of justice. He then left Australia to avoid the Vietnam draft, although tells us that he wonders if he should have stayed to be deliberately jailed as a conscientious objector and make a stance.
Since then, Tatchell’s influence on British politics is undeniable. As he speaks about the law reform campaigns he’s spearheaded (particularly involving closeted Conservative MPs…) it’s difficult not to have utter admiration for his tenacity, even if you don’t agree with his tactics or ideology. Many in the room today no doubt owe plenty of their civil rights to this man and his activist peers, from age of consent laws to marriage equality – as a member of Outrage!, he mounted the first campaign against homophonic marriage legislation as early as 1992.
What’s particularly notable and perhaps surprising based on the radical image often presented of Tatchell in tabloid press, is his attitude of forgiveness. He extols the importance of believing political opponents who sincerely apologise and who proceed to change their poor behaviours. Michael Portillo is cited as a prime example of this and Tatchell explains that bitterness and grudges are incompatible with social progress.
A point of contention does arise during a discussion about North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll and the opposing views from Tatchell and Smith are nuanced, providing a moment of slight tension which is particularly interesting when both state they have the same aim – to see a Labour government after the next General Election.
When asked by an audience member about his message to young queer people, Tatchell gives an impassioned response, referring to trans rights and the outrageous harassment trans people and their allies face both online and in person. A brief but interesting follow-up discussion ensues, focusing on the seemingly omnipresent topic of women’s safe spaces, and various fascinating and sensitive points are raised. Time limits mean the debate is curtailed and the event ends with a final look at what Tatchell sees ahead for himself: a focus on the climate crisis and ongoing human rights activism. It’s difficult to imagine after listening to him today that he’ll ever stop fighting for social justice.
Iain Dale and Jacqui Smith’s For the Many Live runs until Sun 13 Aug 2023 at Pleasance at EICC at 16:00