Hague quashes the rumours: `I'm not gay' ague

William Hague has unequivocally dashed Commons gossip, smear and innuendo about his sexuality and private life.

Before he launched his current bid for the leadership of the party, Mr Hague was confronted by one of his senior supporters about widespread smears about his private life.

In one conversation, he was asked whether he was gay, and he assured his campaign team members that he would not have put himself forward if that had been the case.

But in a newspaper interview yesterday, he "came out", telling a reporter who asked whether he was upset by being thought of as a homosexual: "Well, I'm not.

"My friends know things like that are ridiculous," Mr Hague told the Daily Telegraph. "If you are a politician, some people will always want to do you down. I don't lose a moment's sleep over things like that."

"People have said I've been secretly married, secretly divorced, had children I've hidden, gone to a totally different school from the one I actually went to. I would only have to worry if it were true. Water off a duck's back."

The hot-house atmosphere of the Commons is a notorious breeding ground for the most scurrilous stories about senior politicians; the higher they climb the dirtier become the claims spread against them.

Some years ago, it was said that one Cabinet minister used prostitutes for a perverted form of sexual gratification; in another case it appeared a smear was being perpetrated against another senior minister with "corroboration" from the police.

In both cases, no evidence was ever forthcoming. There is little doubt that if there had been evidence, the two men would have been exposed.

Given his current lead in the Tory leadership race, Mr Hague evidently felt the need to clarify the matter for the benefit of any MPs who had continuing doubts in advance of next Tuesday's second-round ballot.

Mr Hague's engagement to Ffion Jenkins, a civil servant whom he met as Welsh secretary, was seen at the time by some MPs as an early indication that the candidate would give the party nothing to worry about.

As the Independent on Sunday reported last week: "Their engagement has had the happy effect of squashing rumours that Hague - unmarried and apparently with little in the way of a love life - is gay...

"The meaner question, of course, is what Ffion makes of the rumours. But Hague says, a little resignedly, that the issue has not come up. `No, she knows me very well. She knows what I'm like.' He remained very good- natured during all this, although he did retreat in his chair and look a bit nervous.

"How did he feel about the gossip himself - it was not very nice, surely? Hague smiled, tolerantly. `You just have to brush it off. I've had all sorts of rumours about me'."

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