Editor-At-Large: Come on then, Greg. Sing if you're glad to be green

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The Independent Online

It's fascinating how the Tories have quickly tried to seize the initiative by claiming to be the party for whom gay affairs are "no big deal". Greg Barker, Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle, left his wife and three children in July. He claims that a subsequent affair with a male interior designer they had hired to refurbish the family home was "irrelevant" - well, he would say that, wouldn't he? Frankly, I would have cheered from the rafters if he'd had the guts to say, "I left my wife because I was lying and unfaithful [leaving aside the sex of any lovers, which is irrelevant] and I'd rather we were friends." But married gays are nothing if not complete hypocrites - take the Liberal Democrat Mark Oaten, who cheated on his wife with a rent boy: he has rallied to Mr Barker's side, claiming a big support network now exists in Westminster for secret gays and telling journalists, "Loads of people think: there but for the grace of God go I."

There are all sorts of questions investigative journalists could be asking Greg Barker, but the exact date he first discovered he was gay (as opposed to telling us) need not be one of them. If you log on to his website today, you will discover no mention of this week's revelations about his domestic arrangements in the list of hot news stories involving Greg, which range from his campaign to save local post offices to his support for the new Diabetes Awareness campaign. His Media Zone is also a gay-free place. But if you turn to Greg's voting record you find some interesting facts: he was absent for the first reading of the Civil Partnership Bill back in October 2001, and voted against the Adoption and Children Bill in 2002, which allows same-sex couples to adopt children. By October 2004, he finally came out in favour of civil partnerships, which by that time was hardly a controversial stance within his own party; indeed, we could say it was the fashionable stance to adopt.

Greg is said to be an old friend of David Cameron's and, like his leader, he has spent a great deal of time working in public relations - some might say the perfect grounding for the new face of the policy-lite, soundbite-heavy, caring, sharing Conservatives with their new scribbly tree logo. Indeed, as shadow Environment minister, Greg accompanied Mr Cameron on his trip to the glaciers of Norway in April, a photo-opportunity designed to alert us to the dangers of climate change. But scratch beneath the surface and you can see that Mr Barker's environmental credentials are about as flimsy as most Tory policies. Having worked as an associate partner for the Brunswick financial public relations company, he then took a job as head of investor relations for a major Russian oil company. Correct me if I'm wrong, but surely what investors expect from oil companies is financial return - profit, not eco-friendly policies - and I don't think that we can hold up work experience with Russian billionaires as examples of a deep-seated commitment to saving the planet.

There are no signs of composting toilets, wind turbines or solar panels around the million-pound family home in East Sussex - which is funny, because just down the road in Peasmarsh is the home of another millionaire, who contributes a huge amount for environmental causes, Sir Paul McCartney.

In the Register of Members' Interests, Mr Barker appears as a director of several property companies and a shareholder in a business that builds entertainment centres for children in Kiev. Try as I might, I could find no evidence online that this man believes the planet is so worth saving that he is actually investing in eco-businesses, putting his money where his (public) mouth is. In fact, Mr Barker claimed the considerable sum of £107,909 in expenses for the year 2005-6, not bad for someone who is pretty wealthy by anyone's standards. And if he does drive a hybrid car or ride a bike, it is not something he feels worth mentioning to his voters on his website.

As a communicator, he is not gifted: writetothem.com reckons he replied to between 23 to 63 per cent of messages sent to him within two to three weeks, well below average compared with other MPs. He has only attended 65 per cent of the opportunities to vote in the Commons - a below-average record.

All in all, Mr Barker is welcome to keep his private life to himself. What I'd like to know is why the Tories think anyone this second-rate is worthy of the important role of Environment spokesman, given that their leader has said on numerous occasions that it is one of his personal priorities. It only reinforces my belief that the Tories are more interested in PR than policy. Greg Barker's sexuality is not the real story here.

I adore Kylie, but the V&A won't suit her

The Victoria and Albert Museum is to stage an exhibition of Kylie Minogue's costumes next year, which has already been seen in Melbourne, Australia. I adore Kylie, but isn't this just a tad desperate? Kylie's image is something carefully constructed by stylists and designers, but does it really deserve to end up in a museum like the V&A, which has staged well-received retrospectives for true originators such as Vivienne Westwood? Back in Australia the show might have seemed like a big event featuring a national icon, but London is an international hot-house of artistic creativity and a lot of looks have tripped up and down the catwalk since 2004. I know that museums are constantly looking at ways of attracting new visitors, but surely the V&A could have come up with something a little more challenging?

Royal backache: A Sunday lie-in with 'The Archers' cures all

So the Queen has backache, and already all the pundits are rushing out with alternative therapies, including manipulation, hot and cold compresses, and rest. The best cure in my experience is a Sunday in bed starting with the Omnibus edition of 'The Archers', followed by a light lunch washed down with a couple of glasses of wine. The last thing she needs is acupuncture or manipulation accompanied by the sound of wind chimes or that bloody tape of pipe music from the Andes every masseur in Britain must own.

Cut! they cried: And I've got a DVD of the whole surgical operation

I had minor surgery on my shoulder this week, and opted for a local anaesthetic, watching the whole procedure on television throughout. The surgeon gave me a DVD of the op and I am thinking of posting it on my website, along with the DVD they made of my hip clean-out last spring and the really weird video the sinus expert gave me a couple of years back when he poked a camera up my nose! Could this be a new television series? After spending two weeks as a trainee midwife recently, I can't be squeamish about anything.

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