The good gays and the bad gays

WHEREAS THE political hurricane that engulfed and destroyed the ministerial career of Ron Davies has lasted for two weeks (and may drag on for much longer), the admission by Nick Brown, yesterday, of his homosexuality will be nothing more than a one-day squall. The feeling of embarrassment that he acknowledged in his statement will, as I can testify from my own experience of being "outed" by the News of The World in 1994, have turned to relief as he sits down this morning to his ministerial duties, with his position in the Government strengthened.

But Mr Brown has no reason to feel embarrassed. He appears to have conducted his private life with total discretion and decorum. He is unmarried and there are no complications involving wives and children, or behaviour in public places. If he was worried about his immediate family, I'm sure they will have known for many years - even if he didn't think they did - and they will be totally supportive.

It is now clear that there are so-called bad gays and good gays. Bad gays are those who live a lie or hide under the cover of girlfriends or marriage while seeking sexual solace and pleasure in ways that some sections of the public and media still find repulsive.

Good gays, like Mr Brown, live honest but secret and quiet lives. But the secrecy of such lives still causes the possibility of perceived embarrassment and the betrayal of trust and friendship by toerags who may see an opportunity to sell a story to the tabloid press, if the victim becomes an important figure in public life.

Mr Brown, being a good gay and having voluntarily jumped through the hoop of fire yesterday, emerges as the clear winner of the three ministers who have been caught in the media spotlight since the current government gay sex saga began.

He is the first serving minister in both Labour and Conservative governments to have "outed" himself before the tabloids got there first. This, as befits a former chief whip, indicates his understanding of the need to respond positively when the threat of a scandal is about to unleash itself. His sexuality was always an open secret at Westminster and he has successfully gazumped attempts by a former boyfriend to earn a quick buck. No one is now interested in his boyfriend's tales.

Chris Smith has also shown that by quietly admitting his homosexuality years ago he is probably the one politician whose private life is now a matter of supreme public indifference. Whether we like it or not, however, the present world of politics is one where some politicians revel in encouraging the media to concentrate on good news stories about their lifestyles and personalities. The corollary of this means, therefore, that the media will not leave their private lives alone.

There is no doubt that it may be thought to be more difficult for middle- aged politicians, such as Mr Brown, to admit their homosexuality than those a generation younger. Mr Brown is 48 and entered Parliament for a northern working- class constituency more than 15 years ago, when attitudes were perceived to be less tolerant.

Newspapers still find suggestions of relationships between older men and younger men somewhat raunchy, and hint at the suggestion of the older man corrupting the younger man. This is, of course, absolute nonsense, and any concerns that Mr Brown may have had on that score have been misplaced. The immediate reaction of his local constituency has been one of total support, and proves that public opinion is, as so often, well ahead of the media perception.

I would like this country to get to the position where the question of a politician's or anyone else's, sexuality is of no concern to us and does not even merit a column inch inside the back page of a newspaper. But we have not got to that stage yet. It will take one more big-time player to help with that process.

Which is where Peter Mandelson comes in. He is now in the bizarre situation in which everyone knows he is gay, since he was "outed", albeit inadvertently, by Matthew Parris on Newsnight. Mr Parris has held up the hoop and lighted the flame. If I were Mr Mandelson I would thank Mr Parris for doing this and jump through the hoop. If he resists this invitation there will continue to be the same sort of attempts by some disagreeable friend from his past to go to the tabloids and try to sell a story.

Once we put paid for ever to the possibility of past boyfriends or others trying to make money from selling stories, MPs can stop living in the fear that has haunted Mr Brown until yesterday, and which may continue to haunt others.

Michael Brown was a Conservative MP from 1979 to 1997

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