The fall and fall of Ron

Last week the former Welsh Secretary added to the catalogue of disasters that make up his career. Nothing will change until he faces up to his sexuality
Click to follow
The Independent Online
A year ago Ron Davies confidently expected to become the first First Minister of the Welsh Assembly, of which he has been credited with being "the architect". Since that time he has resigned from Tony Blair's Cabinet as Secretary of State for Wales, he has resigned as leader of the Welsh Assembly, he has resigned as chairman of the assembly's economic committee, he has parted from his wife of many years and - last week - he indicated that he will stand down as Member of Parliament for Caerphilly at the next general election.

He has not had a fall from grace, but a bunjee jump. After each separate set of revelations about his private life has occurred, he has managed over the past year always to bounce back more than anyone might have expected. Now he hopes to cling on to his political career as a Welsh Assembly member. Whether the people of Caerphilly will wear this or not remains to be seen. But the fact that he will still be allowed to try says much for the loyalty and faith of his Labour colleagues in Wales. It appears that in this company at least, the person who most despises the sexuality of Ron Davies is himself.

And it is this more than anything, which is the lesson to be learned from the demise of Ron Davies. Here is a man who has been destroyed not by the media, not by illiberal cultural attitudes, not by his "compulsive disorder", not by his abusive childhood, not because of his lies, nor because his colleagues refused to rally round him. All of these have had a small part to play in his fall. But only one factor has been at all decisive. That factor has been Davies's own self-disgust, self-hatred and shame. And because of this he has become the very opposite of a gay icon. Against the temper of his times, he refused to be "out, loud and proud". Instead he chose to live to the full the kind of life that had been the only option of the gay men of the past.

He married twice and had a child with his second wife, and confined his homosexual activities to casual cruising and transactions with male prostitutes. Long before he had reached the point when he had no alternative but to admit his sexual desire for men (an astonishing nine months after this had become clear to the rest of the nation), he had sought to pathologise his homosexuality first as the product of a violent and emotionally dysfunctional childhood, then as vessel which his psyche had invented to provide the "high risk situations" he craved. For his "problem" he sought psychiatric help, unable to compute that half a century ago, this was what happened, involuntarily, to men and women who were discovered to be homosexual.

His continuing insistence that all of his primary sexual feelings have always been for women, is another symptom of his own denial and self-loathing. He clearly believes that homosexual desires are somehow second-best, even though he has not been hypocritical in his political support for gay rights. He still considers it important to emphasise that he has never embarked on a conventional gay relationship or love affair, as if this refusal is something that a bisexual man can be proud of.

It is these failures which have, paradoxically, given a final push to the fight for gay equality. In the strange days following his "car-jacking" in Clapham, his own desperate and pathetic reticence provoked a new round of governmental outings, which, because of the tolerance which marked these revelations, marked a new era of honesty in public life which has most lately persuaded Michael Portillo to peek out of the closet. But while this is positive in itself, Ron Davies has done the gay community another service. His fall has illustrated, in the most rococo fashion, just how damaging and barbaric the repression of homosexuals is and what a terrible psychological price a human being pays when his belief is that he should fight such desires.

The gay campaigner Peter Tatchell claims that there are 30 or 40 other MPs in the situation which Ron Davies lived in until recently - married with children and leading double lives. These people, it can only be assumed, are, like Ron Davies, a product of the era before gay liberation, bowed by the inability to express their sexuality, made into cheats and liars by the repression of an earlier age, from which they have not had the courage to break free. Surely they must be the last generation to suffer in this way. Surely the example of Davies must reassure them that secrecy is more dangerous nowadays that openness.

It is impossible to say even now whether Davies understands that his initial dishonesty, to the police, to the Prime Minister, to the press, and to the public, was the real folly that governed the scale of his downfall. A little frankness at the start of this long, unedifying affair would at least have protected him from the News of the World "honey trap" operation, which exposed him as a cruiser in homosexual haunts and finally, amid the usual denials, prompted him to admit his bisexuality. At that point his career was still in fairly good shape, and it is that second round of sleaze-busting that has plunged him back into the political hinterland.

Press reports claim that he is presently conducting a heterosexual affair. This, too, Davies denies, even though he and his alleged lover are both separated from their spouses. So here is a man who has learnt no lessons at all. His trouble is that he has attempted to borrow some of the accepted wisdoms of the modern condition, while refusing to buy into the central mantra of our closing century.

So while he is happy to project himself as a victim - most notably as a victim of an unhappy childhood - and to proclaim his belief that therapy can "cure" him, he does not understand that these are mere offshoots of the main technique which our secular society has adopted to vouchsafe a kind of spiritual absolution. This, of course, is the confession, borrowed from Catholicism and adapted for use as a science (psychotherapy), as an art (any amount of books, films, etc) and as mass entertainment (Jerry Springer et al). A confession, as long as it is recognisably heart-felt, guarantees absolution, as it has throughout the Christian era.

Even now Ron Davies could tell the truth and save himself. Except that it is clearly, after half-a-century of living a lie, something he cannot bring himself to do. Instead his stubbornly old-fashioned actions condemn him to stubbornly old-fashioned reactions. His life now will be dogged by nudges and winks, and he will be considered, far more than a strutting transsexual or an abusive dominatrix might be, to be a dirty pervert. His own shame guarantees that reaction, and gives licence to those who are just waiting for an opportunity to air their prejudices.

A year ago, when Davies made his first statement to the Commons in the wake of his "moment of madness", he has scrawled "sorry" on his hand, as if to advertise that his contrition was not genuine. At that time too, he paraphrased the gay anthem "I am What I am", to declare that "We are what we are". What a pity that he cannot genuinely face up to what he is and find that other people would be ready to accept him far more easily than he can accept himself.

Comments