Whatever one thinks about the spectacular fall from grace of Lord Browne three years ago – or, indeed, his stewardship of the oil giant BP – it is fascinating to hear him talk today about his fears of being open about his sexuality while in business.
The question it prompts is whether he would find talking about being gay any easier if he were still in business today. The answer is probably not – it is not as if there is now a string of openly gay senior leaders who might be cited as evidence of the business community's indifference to matters of sexuality. In 2007, the Independent on Sunday's "Pink List" of the 100 most powerful gay people in Britain included just one business figure. Last year, the count was two.
In fact, the nature of Lord Browne's downfall may have been a setback for gay people in business. His decision to lie while giving evidence in support of an attempt to stop a newspaper publishing a story about his relationship with a young man gave free rein to many of his critics to pander to some base prejudices while reporting his resignation (which is not, it should be said, to blame him for somehow failing other gay men and women). Having seen Lord Browne treated this way, why should other business leaders want to risk facing more of the same? And if senior executives don't feel able to talk openly about their sexuality, nor will many of their staff.
There is, of course, now another peer of the realm with business connections at the highest level who is openly gay: the Business Secretary. Sadly, the story of Lord Mandelson is not particularly happy either: outed against his will, he still has to put up with an unhealthy degree of prurient interest in his personal life from the tabloid press.