Saturday, 11 September 2010

A Party of Proud Homosexuals?

The UK Conservative party is a mass of contradictions on LGBT issues, as I pointed out in several posts during our general election campaign. Is this because they are in fact a party of closeted gay men (and fewer lesbians) struggling to come out with dignity?

During the election, party officials made a great show of the number of "openly" gay or lesbian candidates. After the election, there reports that 2o or more had been elected - but rather fewer have been identified. (If that figure is correct, and if - let us say- there are ten more in the other parties - that would make a total of roughly 5% of all MP's, a quite astonishing level - and includes several government ministers and shadow ministers.) However, there may not be as many as 2o after all: Kevin Maguire in the New Statesman says there are 11. The official party website, LGBTory, names only 10. (Perhaps the others are  out only in private?) Number 11 on the list was added last week -  Crispin Blunt, MP for Reigate in Surrey, who announced that he was leaving his wife to "come to terms with his homosexuality"

11th openly gay Tory MP since his diminutive colleague Alan "Dinky" Duncan in 2002 made public what everyone in Westminster had known for years. The statement by Blunt, an Old Wellingtonian, reminded me of a good line by Alan Johnson - under Cameron, the Tories have gone from a party of proud public school boys and closet gays to a party of proud homosexuals and closet public school boys.

-Kevin Maguire, New Statesman

This dignified self-disclosure was admirable, and contrasts starkly with some of the more lurid outings of the past: in 1958,  Conservative  MP  Ian Harvey resigned after being found in the bushes in St. James's Park with a  Coldstream Guardsman and arrested. (At the time, self-outing was not an option, as "sodomy" was still a serious criminal offence.) A further contrast was with the official party line that the party has become more LGBT-friendly than its rivals, and a public show by the constituency party that it remains "supportive" of their MP, and the private reactions in the constituency:

Tony Collinson, the former association chairman, who was on the selection panel when Mr Blunt was first chosen for the seat in 1997, said he would never have been picked if the truth had been known at the time.

"One of the reasons [he was selected] was because he had a nice, compact, family unit. He made quite a bit of it," said Mr Collinson, who gave up the chairmanship six years ago. "I'm a little disappointed with the news because I don't think he would necessarily have been chosen had he come out then."

-Daily Telegraph

One report I read at the time suggested that there was more gay scandal lurking in the wings about another Tory MP, of such seniority that it would have the Reigate party spluttering into their G & T's. So it proved.

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Mr Blunt's dignified self-disclosure has now been totally overshadowed by the furore over one of the most senior cabinet ministters, Foreign Secretary William Hague, who has been in the news over a 25 year old personal assistant, described as "dashing" and "handsome", with whom he has shared a hotel room. The assistant has resigned his post, and Mr Hague has released a lengthy personal statement explaining the medical background for the absence of children in his marriage, and insisting that he has never had a sexual relationship with any man.

There are numerous curiosities in this story, but the one I liked the most was an observation by one columnist that given his "history" (there have been questions for years about Hague's sexuality), he should have been particularly careful about the implications of sharing a hotel room with a young man. So, if one is suspected of being gay, one can share a room with a young woman, with impunity, and not a smirch on the reputation?

It is difficult to see any clear way out for Hague now. If he sticks to his guns, there will be much more of the stuff served up so far - "It doesn't matter if he's gay- but he should be honest about it", with the unspoken assumption that his present denials may not be entirely honest.

It really should not matter if an MP is gay or not - but it is unlikely that we will get that desired honesty, especially in the Conservative Party, as long as there remains the sharp contrast between assurances on full inclusion from party HQ, and the hostile reaction from local office bearers in the constituencies.

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