Why did Mr Hughes confess?

Resigning will not help the minister's marriage, argues Irma Kurtz
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Robert Hughes, erstwhile junior minister for the Citizen's Charter and science, has resigned office, I see, in order "to repair his marriage" after an illicit affair. An affair that ended six months ago, mark you, and one that Mr Hughes says "nobody has found out about". I wonder if he counts his wife among those "nobodies"? Or, come to that, does he see his former boss, John Major, as a "nobody"?

The greatest problem I have when I try to comprehend Mr Hughes's decision to quit is that if "nobody" knew anything about his extramarital ding- dong, why in blazes does he confess it now? Admittedly, I am one of those who does not believe politicians are a priesthood: I do not think for one moment that a man who is unfaithful to his wife will necessarily betray his duty to what is a separate and perhaps a greater calling than his marriage, that is, to his country and constitutents. Adulterers have always been among the great leaders of men, I have no problem with that. What does worry me is having in office a man who puts the ease and comfort of his conscience first, ahead of common sense and compassion: a man, in other words, who does not know when to keep his own counsel or how to keep his big trap shut.

Even assuming Mrs Hughes is not a "nobody", and had already found out about her husband's affair, and was perhaps raising a hell of a stink about it at home, how, I wonder, does her husband intend to "repair" the damage done to their marriage, and why does he need to take time off work to do it? Presumably, he means to start bringing his wife breakfast in bed every morning? Maybe he'll wash the dishes, too, and spend every spare minute in penitential mode, talking endlessly about their "relationship", and crying a little - the tears of men have scarcity value and a few of them still go much further in moving the opposition than women's tears. After a week or two of having her hubby at home "repairing" their marriage, if that's where he intends to be, Mrs Hughes will probably agree to anything, and even tell him her heart is healed, just to get him back to work where he belongs.

A woman's heart is not healed so easily, by the by, whatever she lets the man believe. Strictly speaking, healing is nothing near as straightforward a process as "repairing", and it always requires a touch of the miraculous. If Robert Hughes, or any philandering husband, had any idea how deep, even mortal, was the wound of infidelity, and how long it was going to take to regenerate trust at home, he would have run a mile from his passing fancy. Or, having carelessly fallen off the old fidelity wagon, he would have climbed right back on it again, thanking his lucky stars "nobody" had found out about it.

Does he imagine that as long as she can see him every minute of the day and keep an eye on him, as he works away at their marriage, she will at least know he is safe from the wiles of the Whitehall nymphs? Perhaps he does not realise it is attitude, not opportunity, that defines an adulterer.

Finally, why should Robert Hughes assume that because he has been unfaithful, the marriage needs repairing? It is he, not the marriage, who failed; it is he, not the marriage, who was weak. And he it was who could have learnt from the experience never, never, never to do it again: the game is not worth the candle. He is the one who could look to a repair job on his own deeper self, it seems to me. And if there is something wrong with him, then why could he not have fixed it alone, in dignity? Obviously, it is Robert Hughes who could do with a little work.

The writer is agony aunt for `Cosmopolitan' and a novelist.