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Leading article: A sour whiff of homophobia

There is a rather unpleasant message carried between the lines of the Foreign Secretary's extraordinary public statement denying he had had an "improper relationship" with a male aide, or indeed "with any man". It is the idea that scandal still attaches to the fact that a politician may be gay. It was there in the case of the resignation of the Liberal Democrat Treasury minister David Laws. It is the subtext to some of the dislike about Labour's éminence grise, Lord Mandelson. There is no evidence to suggest that Mr Hague's pained statement should be taken at anything other than face value. But it nonetheless suggests something significant about the undercurrents within British political culture.

Of course those who have raised questions about Mr Hague's behaviour insist his sexuality is not what concerns them. They are questioning, they say, his judgement about how others would perceive his decisions to share a bedroom with his aide on the election campaign trail, as if sharing a room was an admission of a sexual relationship. They are questioning the wisdom of promoting that 25-year-old aide from constituency work to being a £30,000-a-year special adviser at the Foreign Office, ignoring the fact that such advisers are often not employed for international expertise but for their intuitions on how foreign policy decisions might play in the meaner world of domestic politics. They are even questioning his judgement in not ignoring the internet allegations and being stung into issuing a public denial – an announcement which has, inevitably, gained far wider publicity than did the original blog gossip.

In all this it is hard not to detect the sour whiff of homophobia. That is what persuaded Mr Hague to include in his statement the unnecessary details of his wife's repeated miscarriages, as if the distressed politician felt the need to prove that he is heterosexual. Mr Hague's grubby critics rhetorically assert that their accusations would have been as pertinent had Mr Hague's young protégé been a women rather than a man. They imply the hoary old non sequitur that a man who will betray his wife will betray his country. Yet Mr Laws betrayed no one in his sexual relationship. He broke the rules about the disclosure of expenses, of course, and that is why he had to resign. But his motive was not financial gain so much as a desire to hide his homosexuality from his Catholic mother.

At the root of so many of these scandals is fear of the stigma that still attaches in many parts of society to being gay. And there is something very troubling about that.