Davies Resignation: The outing of tolerance - except in Downing St

I WAS ONCE mugged in South London - does that throw into question my sexual orientation? Of course not. This is why the Ron Davies affair, despite the speedy spin-doctoring of Alastair Campbell, is so peculiar. The rapid response to Davies's strange admission he had done something foolish and had been robbed was a way of avoiding further accusations of sleaze. Yet by avoiding the juicy issue - whether this is extra-marital and possibly gay sex - tabloid imaginations have not been quieted.

According to the tabloids, this is a "gay sex scandal" and that's it. But it remains difficult to know quite what Davies has done wrong. Elsewhere rumours about drugs circulate. By not spelling out the details of his "lapse of judgement" we can only guess at what has gone on.

There is something, however, to be learnt from the reaction to Davies's admission, which has thrown the question of how both the press and this government handle the issue of gay sex. What we are witnessing is not only the confusion at the heart of government about how to handle the issue of homosexuality but the underlying sea-changes that are taking place culturally. We know that some of Blair's best friends are gay. No one really minds about Chris Smith or Angela Eagle. No one can really make their mind up about Peter Mandleson who has been outed yet again on Newsnight by the openly gay Matthew Parris. I don't know how many times you can be outed and still keep one foot in the closet but Mandleson has muddled along like this for a very long time.

Yet even the Daily Mail these days can embrace Chris Smith and his lover because, one suspects, they manage the extraordinary feat of making homosexuality appear as dull and mundane as heterosexuality. The Sun yesterday, despite giving that sad yobbo Gary Bushell an innuendo-laden page to speculate on which of our prime ministers had been gay, came over all liberal when it came to Mandelson's sexuality. In an editorial which would have been unthinkable even a year ago, it said Mandelson was gay, brilliant and talented. "The British people will not turn on him because he is gay."

So if it is acceptable to be gay and a cabinet minister then what exactly was Davies's crime? Is the issue of infidelity more important now than that of homosexuality? Is the fact Davies is married the key factor? Or are some kinds of homosexuality acceptable to this government and others not? Is bisexuality the real problem? Or are all these questions completely out of order because whatever has caused Davies to resign is nothing to do with homosexuality? If homosexuality is permissible only as long as people are in stable and long-term relationships then we have to conclude that despite its more liberal attitudes, this government still has some way to go on gay issues.

This administration is all too aware of what happened to Major's "back- to-basics" campaign and is keen to avoids any accusations of sleaze - sexual or financial. Yet what caused the Major government to implode was the sheer hypocrisy of ministers preaching about sole-parent families while creating them in their spare time.

It is difficult to see in the Davies case what kind of hypocrisy has been involved unless we know the whole story. Involvement with drugs would lay Davies open to such charges.

The great irony, though, is that while Davies had gone as quickly as he has to avoid tabloid censure, the Government may have underestimated just how far tabloid values have changed. All in the garden is not rosy but being gay is no longer a bar to power or, indeed, popularity. Drug use may be. Yet it is a queer business when a scandal that may have nothing to do with gay sex is the catalyst for a more tolerant attitude to homosexuality.

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