Simon Hughes: In his own words

"I don't want to be labelled gay or bisexual. Just as a human rights activist"
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When I gave an interview to The Independent almost two weeks ago, I did not have a carefully crafted sentence in my mind about my private life.

I think Independent readers will understand two things. First, that it is absolutely proper for people to protect their private life, not just for themselves but for their families, friends and colleagues. People need the space to live their lives.

Second, that what I said to this paper [that I was not gay] was not intended to mislead. I was trying to reinforce that barrier around my private life. It is not dishonest to protect your privacy. What I said wasn't morally wrong. It was not factually wrong.

I don't think it would have made much difference if I had answered the question differently - even if I had given the same answer I have always given in 25 years in public life and refused to speak about my private life. I have been asked the same question in every interview since.

Even if I had said then what I have said now, it wouldn't have been the end of it. I would have been asked about my relationships - when and with whom.

I do not want to be pigeon-holed in a way that is irrelevant. Society has changed since I first stood for election in 1980, when it was a completely different climate. But today, single people, particularly men, are still much more likely to be asked about their sexuality. There is an unfair presumption, even though 40 per cent of households are people living alone.

We really have got to have a society where people don't presume things or label us as this sort of MP or that, whether it's gay or bisexual. I want to be labelled a human rights activist, a campaigner for justice, a fighter for the poor.

I did not make my statement to The Sun, saying that I had had relationships with men and women, because the paper had any specific information about me. I never even saw what it had. I realised that I had to say something because allegations were swirling around every day - most of them completely wrong - which were preventing us from getting on to policy in the leadership campaign.

It was the cumulative effect. I decided I had to draw a line - not just for me, but for the people working on my campaign and those who nominated me.

I do not know what impact the past few days will have on my campaign. I do know that my party has always been progressive and enlightened about people's personal behaviour, and doesn't presume or prescribe. I don't think the actions in my private life have ever interfered with my public duties.

My party has a choice to make - whether it wants someone who will lead from the front with passion and not just offer stability and a period of settling down. I hope that people will judge me as much by how I respond in difficult times as how hard I work in easier times.

I hope that these events will make it easier for others in public life to make the right decisions about talking about their private life.

Now I want to get back to the policy agenda for this campaign. After the events of recent weeks, there is a greater need than ever for Liberal Democrats to make a compelling case for Liberalism. Because after the events of recent years, it is clear that there is a greater need than ever for the principles we stand for.

I want to lead a party that campaigns, above all, for three goals: a freer Britain, a fairer Britain, and a greener Britain.

A freer Britain, because the liberty of individuals and communities is what Liberals are all about - the chance to live your own life in your own way free of interference. As a human rights lawyer, I have led campaigning for 30 years against authoritarian governments.

A fairer Britain, because an unequal society cripples freedom and crushes life chances. Standards of health and life expectancy, levels of social respect and trust, crime, community coherence and even participation in political institutions, are all related to inequality in the distribution of income and wealth.

And a greener Britain, because uncontrolled climate change is the biggest challenge we face. Scientists differ in whether they think we have 10 years, or 30 years, to put in place the energy infrastructure that will make possible a sharp reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Some think it may already be too late. But we have to try, not only for our own sake and our children's, but for the sake of the poorest and most vulnerable communities everywhere in the world.

Increasingly, the electorate will be looking for a party which knows what it believes and communicates its message far and wide, that inspires all those who believe in a freer, fairer and greener society. Under my leadership, the Liberal Democrats will be such a party.

The author is president of the Liberal Democrats and a candidate for the party leadership