According to the newspapers that reported the “revelations”, the private life of a low-ranking Conservative MP has “rocked” the Government and left the Prime Minister “stunned”. That would seem to be overstating the impact of the resignation of Mark Menzies, a figure who might count himself lucky to be considered a household name in his own kitchen.
It is no disrespect to him personally to point out that being a parliamentary private secretary to a minister outside the Cabinet in the Department for International Development is not to be at the centre of power. The Profumo scandal it ain’t.
As a story, then, the Menzies Affair, as it will never come to be known, doesn’t matter much. As a case study in the state of our press and attitudes to sex and drugs, it is instructive. On drugs, it shows once again that the “war” against them is lost if their use is so casual at such a level – as if we did not know already that MPs and civil servants are as prone as the rest of us to a quick high, legal or not.
Still more depressing was the way the gay aspect of Mr Menzies’s alleged behaviour was dwelt upon. It was as if for a brief time the press had hired a Tardis and returned to the golden days of the 1980s and 1990s when the words “gay” and “MP” in the same headline would guarantee political destruction for the individual and a “ sleaze” crisis for the Cabinet.
It was telling that this “story” broke on the weekend that equal marriage at last became a reality for many happy couples, with so few voices raised in dissent and so many raised in joy. Images of a rainbow flag flying on Whitehall were a powerful symbol of a brighter, more tolerant Britain. It suggests that the public wants to move on from “gay-baiting” and hypocrisy about drugs. It is a pity that parts of the media have not caught up with these new realities, and remain in a time warp of hypocrisy and prurience.