Political obsessives can be odd people. Ivan Massow is no exception. The entrepreneur and ‘date’ on the arm of Thatcher at the 1999 Conservative conference famously defected to New Labour in 2000, before flipping back to the Tories in time for their resurrection. But asides from being an important gay political figure Massow was a hugely important in making financial services more accessible. Until the mid-Nineties gay men were forced to undergo HIV tests for mortgages and premiums were often in excess of 400 per cent – profit out of prejudice. By utilising knowledge gained from the industry he was able to loophole these practices and help ordinary men buy their own property. More recently he’s established Jake, a gay professional social network, and is at a comfortable, well-deserved stage in life – as he told So So Gay.
SSG: Are you ‘a child of Thatcher’ or a ‘son of Blair’?
Ivan Massow: A child of Thatcher. She was a meritocrat – a grocer’s girl done good. Although there were homophobic policies that came out of that era I believe that they were foisted on her by the likes of Norman Tebbit. I don’t believe that she herself was homophobic. The old-style socialism that was in force before her and that coloured my infant years was that of power cuts and strikes, and a sort of darkness that seemed to weirdly reinforce that working class people belonged down a pit, or somehow preserve the working class as a non-aspirational species. It seemed to be in the Labour Party’s interests to keep people there. Thatcherism gave people hope and the ability to move on, regardless of background or qualifications. She had bigger fish to fry than sexuality; she had to rescue an entire country.
How do you think that the Coalition has fared in its first year?
It’s done brilliantly. I was quietly always in favour of the coalition. While I trust the Conservative party implicitly, my ideal party is one with Conservative party sensibilities when it comes to economic management and a Liberal party heart when it comes to social issues. For the first time in my lifetime I can see the Liberal Democrats as players in the political arena. It’s nice to have a third party now that isn’t some kind of chancer with crap economic policies. They’ve become a well-rounded second party and it’s also much more interesting when you have three parties capable of being in government.
I thought that a coalition was the best option before the election, not just for social issues. I argued in favour of a coalition at the previous Conservative conference that I attended. I spoke to many of my colleagues and I said it would probably be the best outcome because of the economic changes that need to be made are so deep and harsh. If you had both the Labour Party and the Lib Dems attacking we would never recover from the bad press and they would be made impossible. But by having a centre-left party on the side of economic reforms, things can be done without a massive punch-up.
Has the Conservative party detoxified itself enough for LGBT people?
I think that LGBT issues are becoming a non-issue. Gay men especially need to start addressing their own behaviour now that they have all these rights. We do behave differently to the rest of society; the recent Jake survey found that we’re three times more likely to use cocaine than the straight population. We also have more sexual partners; in our survey we found that 78 per cent of us still have unsafe sex, and 48 per cent have had unprotected sex with strangers. There are so many gays in the Conservative Party these days it’s hilarious – it’s almost a gay club. I think that’s because gay people are drawn to egalitarian and meritocratic nature of conservativism. Gay people are more entrepreneurial as they’re excluded from traditional family aspects of society. But with equality comes responsibility. You see through history where there’s been a great fashion for so-called equality and hedonistic behaviour, and that often precedes a massive backlash, such as Weimar Germany. It would be nice if we could learn from that. Gay people probably need to come to terms with society more than vice-versa today.
What are your thoughts on the proposed reforms to the blood service – a step in the right direction, or, to paraphrase the words of Nick Clegg, ‘a miserable little compromise’?
I know that some people have a great problem with not being able to donate blood. I’m personally relieved! If the NHS is not convinced that they can adequately screen HIV from blood then it’s a medical issue, not a human rights issue. I had to have a blood transfusion a while ago, and it crossed my mind ‘I’ve made it to 43 without contracting HIV, I hope they’ve screened this properly!’ We know that sometimes it still takes a while to show up so if that’s what the NHS says then it’s not an issue.
Do you think that full marriage equality is likely within this current term of Parliament?
There seems to be an appetite for it. I think it’s just complicated because of the Church. I know most of the front-bench really well, like Gove and Osborne who I’ve worked with and know socially. If there are other things they can do to ingratiate themselves with the gay community rather than alienating then I think they’ll do it. Like Thatcher they’ve bigger fish to fry economically.
Where did Labour go wrong?
Where New Labour went wrong was by having Gordon Brown. It was like having a receiver to run a business. Someone run by ego, who bullied and badgered his way into the job like a wounded bull elephant. I was so underwhelmed by him. He had a terrible time in power; the only parts he really enjoyed were being driven around in cars. When he left Downing Street with his children it was almost like they were being made to do the walk of shame on a gameshow. Ed Miliband meanwhile is like a student union politician, and all the stuff he’s coming up with is quite hilarious. It’s class war, proper old Labour stuff, and he’s so ineffectual it’s actually quite dangerous. It’s like watching an Aardman animation. And the unions would probably sooner have someone powerful in opposition than diminutive in government.
What was your motivation for relaunching Jake?
It was falling apart. It was one of the first online social networks ever built and every time we added something we were adding something to a ten-year-old coding structure. It was so complicated it was finding hard to cope with the 50,000 members it had. This new version plugs into Facebook and LinkdIn and is a lot more simple and durable.
As for adding Jacki, the female segment to it, Jake was always male and female but we decided to add Jacki to stop it from being seemingly male-orientated and putting off the girls. It was never branded with a male mind but I didn’t want to call it ‘the gay professional social network’ or ‘pink’ this or that.
To be honest I’m not a massive lover of running Jake. It’s something I started but it keeps coming back to me. There have be several people running it for a while at a time but they stop as it becomes a bit too much as they have to deal with haughty gay professional kids. The net result is that I end up getting it back again and re-manage it before handing it over to a new team. The only thing I’ve had a big involvement with lately is the recent survey.
In terms of other stuff, I’m doing a lot of property that keeps me busy and I’m creating a new financial service, Massow Custodian. I want to see if I can capitalise my knowledge of the financial services industry. I don’t need to worry about money so I’d only ever do something if I felt I could learn something new and it would be fun. I never thought that Massows, my original company, would make lots of money. I came from such a poor background that I never thought that real people could make money.
I’ve lived in Malibu and Monaco which was a phenomenal experience, but one thing that seems to run is huge unhappiness and dysfunctionality. I know some famous gay singers. You go to their huge houses and they’re unhappy, scared, dope-smoking shells. These people become increasingly isolated, surrounded by ‘yes’ people, having dinner with people paid to be there. They’re constantly in rehab, buying things to try and be happy and it just doesn’t work. The weird thing is when you’re in a Ferrari at a traffic light. you think that people are looking at you for a completely different reason than what they are. I’ve been that person, but now I can see things for what they are.