Some straight talking from Cameron

THERE was a sketch by Harry Enfield a while back about a homophobic father struggling to get along with his gay son and his boyfriend.

Thursday, 11th February 2010, 3:37 pm

The dad was determined to be tolerant, but would be tripped up by his prejudice - plunged into a state of stuttering bafflement when the young couple ordered pints of bitter, and so on.

What made the sketch so affecting was the father's internal conflict, showing that a man can be tolerant in one part of his mind while remaining bigoted in another.

Once comedians made jokes about gay people. Then homophobia itself became the butt of the joke.

That was 1998, and we've come further since then.

Homophobia has become decisively discredited, if not in every church, mosque and synagogue, at least in politics.

Witness David Cameron's bold attempt to woo the pink vote in a lengthy interview with Johann Hari in the gay magazine Attitude.

I say 'bold' because Cameron must have known he would face some tough questions; when it comes to a homosexuality, he has form.

He supported Section 28, which made it a crime to 'promote homosexuality' to children, and which critics said made teachers reluctant to punish homophobic bullying.

In 2002 Cameron voted against allowing gay couples to adopt.

But look at him lately, applauded at his party conference for saying the Tories must support marriage - including between gay couples.

This was refreshing particularly because one of the recurring irrationalities of homophobia is the argument that homosexuality threatens heterosexuality, as if it can spread like a virus.

Now Cameron acknowledges that Section 28 was an 'insult', and has moved several gay candidates into winnable seats.

How to account for his conversion?

One answer is that he is an unprincipled careerist who'll say anything to get elected. But I don't buy that. I can't look with bottomless cynicism at the man most likely to be the next prime minister. Not yet anyway.

(Tony Blair's critics thought the same of him once, until it became apparent that he was a man of conviction, as the Chilcot inquiry reminds us.)

I don't think we can rule out the possibility that Cameron's views on homosexuality have changed, just as we have changed as a country.

The British Social Attitudes Survey found that 36 per cent of people thought sexual relations between two adults of the same sex were "always or mostly" wrong, down from 62 per cent in 1983.

It's hard to sustain a view that homosexuality is a sinful menace to the straight world when you see it in such a benign context as mainstream light entertainment.

Nothing democratises like television, and we now have gay soap opera characters, gay presenters, gay reality TV contestants and gay comedians.

The type satirised by Harry Enfield might these days look upon the gurnings of Graham Norton with a certain weary acceptance, and might even have some affection for that nice Will Young.

It's telling that Cameron says he didn't know any openly gay people until he graduated from university and met some at the Conservative Research Department.

Maybe, like many people in the country, he has shed some of his anti-gay baggage.

And if I'm wrong, and he's just pretending, it's an act he'll have to maintain, which is almost as good as the real thing.