The Evening Standard tonight highlights the Bermondsey by-election of 1983 in the light of the Simon Hughes revelation.
But I feel certain that it is wrong in saying that the Liberals described Simon as 'the straight choice' during that election campaign. 'It's a straight choice' was a standard slogan for promoting tactical voting – i.e. a straightforward choice between Party X and the Liberals.
The real homophobic campaign was run by 'Real Bermondsey Labour' candidate John O'Grady, who was supported by outgoing MP Bob Mellish. Despite this Labour were more than happy to quote Mellish's endorsement of subsequent Labour candidates on their leaflets.
Opponents often accused the Liberal by-election team of the 1980s of dirty tricks. For the most part this sprang more from the against-the-odds victories it achieved than what they actually did wrong. Tactics that are now commonplace in all parties – tabloid newspapers, spoofs of opposition leaflets, quoting canvass returns to promote tactical voting were all pioneered by the Liberals during that period. Opponents complained of dirty tricks then copied the tactics.
The Hot ginger and dynamite blog prints a leaflet from what it calls the 'notoriously un-homophobic Brecon By-Election, in which sexuality was famously not an issue' using the 'It's a straight choice' tactical message. This is not a wise example to quote since Brecon and Radnor in 1985 was the Liberal campaign team's one real moment of shame. One leaflet referred to the Liberal candidate as the only one with a secure/stable/normal (I forget which) family background. This was designed to contrast with the Conservative candidate who was in his thirties and single and the Labour candidate who lived with but was not married to the mother of his children.
On this occasion, even making allowances for less enlightened times, this clearly crossed the line. Richard Livsey apologised at the time and it prompted some soul-searching within the party to make sure that the by-election team did not lose the run of themselves again.
However, at Bermondsey it seems to be a case of the Liberals being tainted by the sins of others. Certainly it will have suited the Labour Party who were quite happy to have the support of O'Grady and Mellish at future elections to blame the Liberals for the homophobia of the by-election campaign.