A very high-risk strategy indeed

Now Ron Davies says he is seeking psychiatric treatment. Is the man his own worst enemy? By Mary Braid
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The Independent Culture
Life has undoubtedly been a nightmare for former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies since he was forced to resign nine months ago, following his "moment of madness" on Clapham Common. That the nightmare continues, however, is partly down to Mr Davies himself.

Rumours that Davies, whose public image was always that of a tough macho Welshman, had been cruising for gay sex on the Common before he was robbed and relieved of his car last October, were probably circulating before he had even made his statement to police.

The MP's unconvincing explanation of why he was talking to complete strangers in the dark in a well-known gay pick-up area - and why, if it was all so innocent, he later felt the need to resign - has only provided room for continuing speculation and innuendo.

Since then Davies, married with a teenage girl, and once regarded as the most talented politician to emerge in Wales for a generation, has squirmed and twisted in the glaring spotlight of unrelenting media interest - particularly from the tabloids. And as he has twisted, he has reshaped and retold his story many times.

This week we have the latest version, which if it was not sad, might be comical. This version, once again, comes at the end of a chain of events set off by the tabloids. Two weeks ago the News of the World claimed in great salacious detail that Davies had exposed himself to, and propositioned, its reporters.

It can safely be assumed that the reporters - working undercover in the public interest? - did not run screaming from the local beauty spot near Davies' Caerphilly home where the alleged encounters with him took place. They were after all executing a gay version of the "honey trap" for which the paper is now famous.

In the aftermath of this seedy episode, Mr Davies felt moved to concede publicly that he was bisexual - but, confusingly, he also denied that he was seeking gay sexual encounters in the local woodland apparently well known as a gay hang out.

No. He was innocently strolling - as he claimed to have been doing when he was assailed on Clapham Common - and bird watching, though he had apparently left his binoculars at home. The police are investigating the allegations that he was importuning in a public place.

In the week since his admission of his bisexuality, Davies has insisted it is "business as usual" at the Welsh Assembly (which he was so recently expected to head, but where, since his tragic fall from grace, he now chairs the economic development committee). But now he's offered yet another explanation, with yet another twist. Yes, he is a bisexual but his "primary feelings, both physical and emotional are towards women". And he denies ever having had "what most people would understand to be a gay relationship".

Davies, whose wife of 17 years is standing by him, now says he has located his real difficulty, and it is not principally his sexual orientation. He is having psychiatric treatment, he reveals, for a compulsive disorder which leads him to seek "high-risk" situations. Thus he tries to persuade us that the episodes on a dark Clapham Common, and the encounters with the hacks from the News of the World so much closer to home, are explained.

Davies wants us to believe he has not sought sex with strangers, but has simply been "intrigued at the prospect of going with unknown company, male or female, for a meal and perhaps to watch a video in unknown and strange surroundings". He allows a sexual undercurrent may be there - but not that anything of a sexual nature has occurred.

Another twist, another turn. And we suspect that we - and more importantly, Mr Davies - are no nearer the truth. His decision to seek psychiatric treatment for a compulsive need to takes risks sits too nicely into that long, sad tradition of gays seeking medical treatment - including brutal aversion therapy - to "cure" them of their affliction.

Davies' continuing confusion about himself is perhaps an even greater tragedy than his fall from political grace and the suggestions that his career - which ended in Westminster last October with the encounter on Clapham Common - will soon be dead in Cardiff too.

"The trouble with Ron Davies," says a seasoned political commentator, "is that he is the classic macho Welshman and it is just not in his make- up to come out. That has made his sexuality an issue." Pointing to openly gay members of the Cabinet, he argues that Davies' inability to look his sexuality in the eye is the reason the Labour leadership considered him a liability, and a prime candidate for blackmail.

Davies has said an abusive upbringing - his father was, he claims, very violent towards him - is at the root of his troubles. But it is likely that the macho element to his upbringing is as much to blame for his current turmoil. In the rough, tough Welsh valleys, men were miners, not limp- wristed homosexuals.

This accounts for Davies' public image - "He was a real ball-breaker and so he wasn't liked," remembers the commentator - and why there is less sympathy for him among his political colleagues than might be expected.

Colm Keegan, who has been counselling homosexuals for 15 years at the gay advice centre, PACE, is, however, sympathetic. He says that an inability to face up to sexuality is common among men of Davies' generation.

When these men were young, coming out was not a possibility, especially in rural, working-class areas. Without the support of a gay community, they built their lives on the old norms and prejudices, acquiring wives and children along the way.

"Mr Davies is a man of his time," Keegan says. An element of risk, he suggests, necessarily became part of the sexual lives of gays now in their forties, fifties and sixties. The prejudices of society saw to that.

"Homosexual relationships had to be kept hidden and kept secret and when you put guilt, fear and sex together it is a very heady mix." By that theory, Davies continues to take risks because they have become part and parcel of a double life. He may also take risks because he wants to be caught.

"It must be awful for Mr Davies, and he has been hounded by the press. It seems to me that he has never been able to accept a part of himself, and be happy. I work with men who have families who mean everything to them, and have lived in hope that their homosexual feelings would one day go away."

Peter Tatchell, of the gay-rights group, OutRage, is also sympathetic, but his sympathy is tempered with frustration at what he sees as Davies refusal to face the truth.

"With every new admission Ron Davies comes across as more confused than ever about his sexuality," says Tatchell. "He just does not sound convincing... It is time Ron Davies cleared the air."

But Tatchell believes that other MPs should look more kindly on Davies. For his predicament, he suggests, could soon easily be theirs. "There are 30 to 40 other married MPs who lead secret bisexual lives, and they are all vulnerable while they are still in the closet."

What most people would agree surely is that whatever Ron Davies says should be voluntary. There has been no contradiction between his stance on gay issues and his private life: he voted, for example, for an equal age of consent. He is not a hypocrite and so there is no justification for him to be outed or hounded - even when his own comments appear only to create confusion.