Crispin Blunt: “Right around the world, people like me are criminalised”

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Crispin Blunt’s history of political activism makes for interesting reading. Yes, Blunt, a Conservative backbencher and Durham alumnus, has consistently defended Boris Johnson over Partygate. Yes, Blunt’s been passionately (and perhaps predictably) supportive of the government’s response to the pandemic.

 But so too has Blunt supported the liberalisation of drugs, ever since he was alerted to how “catastrophic” the drug policy was when he served as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons between 2010 and 2012. “Sitting behind the idea of prohibition is the politicians’ misguided belief that drugs are bad – which is obviously correct in most cases – so they are banned”, he tells me. “That’s the safe moral position to be … and we have watched the carnage then take place right across the world ever since.”

 Most recently, Blunt has strayed from the Conservative line by criticising the government over their record on trans rights. I ask about his thoughts on this. “Understanding trans – unless you’ve had a trans person close to you…”, Blunt trails off reflectively.

 “One of the focuses I wanted to give to my post-ministerial career was global LGBT rights”, he continues. “The UK got itself into the best position in the world on LGBT issues. We had the most advanced action plan … there was this massive consultation on the reform of the Gender Recognition Act”.

But now, Blunt says, “you’ve got this toxic culture war around the trans issue”.

There’s “wildly exaggerated data about the potential threat that trans people – particularly trans women – could pose to women”, he continues. “It’s taken the eye off the ball on global LGBT rights. Right around the world, people like me are criminalised, lynched, oppressed, and in some countries get the death sentence.”

 Blunt then turns to what the UK should avoid. “What we don’t want is to have to go in front of a medical panel to tell us what we know already – a bunch of people who don’t know us who then have to decide whether what we feel is legitimate. It just puts us way behind.”

 “If you wrestled with your gender and your identity, you pretty much know. And it’s those judgements that need to be supported, and people need proper counselling and proper support from the health service.”

It’s difficult to interview a Conservative MP and not have the conversation turn to the government response to Covid-19, so eventually we address the elephant in the breakout room.

“Overall, now, it looks as though we’ve done pretty well”, Blunt starts. “The economic measures [that the government has passed] appear to have been a terrific success.” He gives the vaccination rollout and the furlough scheme as examples. “The administration behind the deployment of the vaccine programme has seen our country through a tough phase.”

So how does Blunt reconcile this apparent success with Britain’s high Covid death toll?

“Sadly, I went to a funeral a couple of days ago for a friend who died of a heart attack, age sixty-three. He’s gone down as a Covid death.”

Blunt has clearly considered my point before, and he launches into an analysis of how the UK records Covid deaths.

“I just wonder how many of the 150,000 are people who died with, rather than of, and whether our system, being rather punctilious, has overscored the number of people who have died of Covid”, he says.

Blunt brings up the data from some other countries. “I don’t trust the figures coming out of places like Iran, and China … so international comparisons are quite tough”.

Blunt then turns to the impact of Covid restrictions. “The measures taken to contain Covid, particularly when we didn’t have a vaccine programme, were … really tough, difficult measures”, he says, especially “when people were dying in significant numbers at the earlier stage [of the pandemic] and people were not able to be at the bedside of their relatives.”

“You can understand why Partygate has suddenly taken on a life of its own, because it speaks to real experience”.

So has Partygate changed Blunt’s view of Boris Johnson? At this, Blunt launches into a defence of the Prime Minister’s actions.

“You’re running a war. It’s an operational situation, and the centre is Downing Street. That garden is used all the time and it’s part of the workspace.”

“You’re running a war. It’s an operational situation, and the centre is Downing Street.”

 “You also have Dominic Cummings, who was the Prime Minister’s chief advisor – for whom I had twice as many emails coming in complaining about his trip to Barnard Castle than I’ve had about Boris Johnson’s parties, I might add – who Boris backed and stood behind who has decided to go on this kamikaze mission against him.”

Blunt’s defence of the Prime Minister’s actions is unsurprising – he’s consistently taken this line and he’s published a similar defence of Johnson on his website – but his claim about Dominic Cummings’s adventure to Barnard Castle is striking. So is Blunt suggesting that there was greater public outrage at Cummings’s trip than there has been over Partygate?

“That’s my feeling”, he responds.

 “This is plainly an area where those in charge don’t appear to have abided by the rules that they set for everyone else, except …” Blunt sighs.

“You’re trying to run Number Ten, these people are working sixteen hours a day with each other the whole time.” “What do you expect their civil service leaders to do to encourage them?”

“We’ll see what happens, but to lose a Prime Minister over this would seem to be a strategic misjudgement of quite spectacular proportions.”

Image Credit: UK Parliament

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