William Hague's sharing of a hotel room with his young and handsome special adviser may well turn out to be the scandal that wasn't – but that doesn't mean it was anything less than tragic.
Hague's anguish in press conference was so apparent and deeply felt, it almost made me like him. He may have hung on to his job but he'd certainly lost something; the man's disillusion was palpable. It can't have been politics that he was disillusioned with. He's too much of an old hand for that. Perhaps it was human nature.
He came more in sorrow than in anger. He was weary of the world – and clearly crucified with embarrassment. Who wouldn't be? Leaving aside the serious business of press intrusion and homophobia, the facts of the story lacked a certain dignity. For a start, twin-bed sleeping arrangements are never glamorous. Did one man toss and turn while the other snored? Then there was the overkill to squash the rumours – the unnecessary confession of wife Ffion's miscarriages. It was all what a teenager would call "too much information".
Hague was so unequivocal about not having had a relationship with Christopher Myers that one can only believe him. Still, the pair looked lit up in those pictures, striding along in the sunshine. I can't help enjoying the idea of Hague being a kind of Charles Ryder to Myers's Sebastian Flyte. Myers certainly has the looks to break a heart or two and, as Brideshead tells us, love is no respecter of gender politics. People can be in love without having sex and, I would add, without necessarily betraying their marriages.
But anyway – that's just my wistful imaginings. Back to the serious business – the homophobia and press intrusion. There was a distinct feeling on Thursday that the whole story was beyond the pale and shouldn't really have been reported. Rumours on the blogosphere were said to be inciting the press to new lows. Twitter was alarmingly quiet on the subject of this Tory cabinet minister who was possibly mis-spending taxpayers' money.
The prevailing mentality was that if Hague was gay then good for him and it wasn't anybody else's business. Which, of course, it wouldn't be if he wasn't a Conservative politician who'd chosen to get married and make statements about marriage being "the best hope for stable family life". I say a Conservative politician because if any man ever lied about his sexuality or married a woman when he'd really rather be with a man it will have been because of conservative – with a small C – pressures in society. To conserve is to try to keep things as they are. It is to value the traditional ways and to slow the historical slide (in the Western world at least) towards freedom and equality. Conservatism, the dictionary tells me, is the desire to preserve existing institutions – and one of those institutions is most certainly heterosexual marriage.
If Hague had been having a gay affair then it would have been absolutely fair game for the press to bring us the story – more than that, it would have been deeply important. Conservatism has consequences – the culture of conservatism can lead to pain and repression. People get crushed trying to fit into the boxes. There is a progressive force in this world and a regressive one and if a politician wants to reap the benefits of conserving wealth (inside the establishment, for example), then he must also take the consequences of his party's conservative moral stance. Which leaves us with the fact that, in this case, there wasn't really a story. A conclusion was leapt to which wasn't appropriate. I'm sorry for Hague but, in the end, it's more important that the media does its job and continues to search for all the hypocrisies, big and little. Mistakes will be made every now and then. That's the way it is.