Lancaster's next Pro-Chancellor Alistair Burt has come under fire from students for his record on LGBT+ rights. The former Conservative MP and minister frequently opposed gay rights legislation and has historical links to a “gay cure” group.
Described by The Guardian as a “bespectacled computer boffin”, Burt was a Conservative MP for over 30 years, from 1983-1997 and 2001-2019. A devout Christian, he was associated with Prime Minister John Major's 'Back to Basics' campaign in the 1990s, which focused on the promotion of “respect for the family.” In a 1994 speech, Burt bemoaned “the decline of marriage as an institution”, arguing that unmarried couples should not live together.
In 2012 then-minister Alistair Burt was exposed as one of 20 MPs with links to a homophobic evangelical organisation. Between 2002 and 2010, Burt's parliamentary office had four interns funded by the controversial Christian Action Research and Education (Care) group. Care has a well-documented history of promoting homophobia, most notably in April 2009, when it hosted a “gay cure” conference, including a session on “mentoring the sexually broken”, which was met with opposition from over 100 protestors.
Burt's parliamentary voting record has come under close scrutiny from students since his appointment as Pro-Chancellor was announced earlier this week. The Tab Lancaster has detailed his controversial record on LGBT+ rights, voting against allowing same-sex couples to adopt, voting against the repeal of Section 28 and opposing the sexual orientation provisions of the 2006 Equality Act. He has, however, voted in favour of allowing same-sex couples to marry.
As government health minister, he controversially filibustered two bills in the House of Commons in 2015, effectively blocking them from ever becoming law. One would have given the NHS cheaper drugs, and the other would have guaranteed carers free hospital parking.
The Labour Club called on the University to review Burt's appointment, saying that his views “are incompatible with the values of tolerance and equality that are so important to the Lancaster community”, and two of the University ward's three Labour city councillors (less Oliver Robinson, also LUSU President) declared that they had “no confidence” in the new Pro-Chancellor.
As Pro-Chancellor, Burt will not be paid a salary by the University, but is entitled to claim expenses. Spineless worries that the University finance office may need to keep a close eye on Burt's expenses account after he was implicated in the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal. Burt had claimed £1,000 too much in rent expenses from the taxpayer, but despite being caught out by Commons officials, he never had to pay the money back. He did however agree to pay back over £200 in expenses which he had claimed for snacks and alcoholic drinks from hotel room minibars.
Burt's use of taxpayer's money has also come under scrutiny over the years due to his employment of his own wife, Eve, as his office manager (earning up to £40,000, paid for by the public purse) throughout his career as an MP. When challenged in an interview, Eve Burt said: “I'm not sure I have to defend it at all. It is what it is.” According to the Mirror and Buzzfeed News, Eve Burt is a family friend of a Conservative councillor who was a prominent member of a church accused of attempting to “cure” LGBT+ people and deaf people by “expelling demons.”
Students who were hoping that the appointment of a new Pro-Chancellor could be an opportunity for the University to finally take meaningful environmental action will be disappointed. In 2015, Alistair Burt worked as a non-executive director of international oil and gas exploration and production company President Energy PLC, earning £20,000 for a mere 12 days' work annually. So it's unsurprising that as an MP, Burt generally voted against measures to prevent climate change.
Burt courted controversy last year by seemingly defending a fellow minister who used force against a peaceful Greenpeace protestor. A subsequent Cabinet Office investigation found that Mark Field had broken the ministerial code, but Burt chose not to condemn his behaviour, instead saying that “It looks to be a very difficult situation for everyone concerned”.
Sitting alongside Alistair Burt in University Council meetings will be a former spy with links to Russian organised crime and the UK's National Statistician, who is embroiled in a six-figure financial scandal. Lancaster University's governing body is quickly turning into a club for some of the most scandal-ridden public figures in Britain.