This Hague business has, as usual, generated very much more heat than light. Most commentators have fulminated at length on the story’s homophobic underpinnings, or on the unseemliness of dragging his wife’s miscarriages into the limelight, or on the unsavoury way in which the story came to public attention and the media’s subsequent feeding frenzy, or on Hague’s political judgement in putting out his extraordinarily personal and defensive public statement.
Fascinating as all these aspects are, they have frequently served to obscure the real issues. The story may have vile homophobic roots, but that doesn’t mean Hague has no legitimate questions to answer. The blogger Guido Fawkes may be a nasty piece of work (or a libertarian hero disinfecting the body politic – take your pick) and the media generally may have no sense of priorities (cf the largely deafening silence on the News of The World hacking scandal) but neither mean that there is no public interest, in the best sense, here at all.
So here’s my attempt to sort the wheat of legitimate concern from the chaff of prurience and arrant stupidity. Let’s get shot of the latter first.
- There is nothing of legitimate public interest in the sexuality of ministers (except see first point in the wheat section below.)
- Having, or not having, kids is about as accurate an indicator of sexuality as reading the Daily Mail is of the presence of an open-minded and intelligent approach to current affairs.
- Sharing a room is not proof positive of a sexual relationship.
- Being in the public eye means that the public will have its collective eye on you, and deciding to be a politician is to decide to be in the public eye, so it’s pretty pointless to complain when it gets uncomfortable.
- There’s nothing wrong with being gay.
- In case you missed that last point, I’d like to make it clear that there’s nothing wrong with being gay.
But having cast the chaff aside and burnt it in the fiery furnace of moral rectitude, there is still some wheat to be dealt with.
- If as a man you make a song and dance about marriage, its sanctity, and your pure and untainted heterosexuality, it would be legitimate to hold you up to public ridicule if you were found with your legs wrapped around another man. That’s not what’s happened here, but in such circumstances “outing” a public figure would not be tantamount to homophobia.
- Special advisors are there to provide special advice. That kind of assumes they have some special knowledge, knowledge that you could reasonably be expected to be able to point to if asked.
- Such advisors are paid by the public purse, so we have a legitimate interest if they seem to be more concubine than advisor.
- If someone says that because you have no kids you must be gay, you serve only to legitimise that stupidity if you drag your wife’s medical history into the business of refuting it.
- If as a middle-aged man you repeatedly appear in public wearing a baseball cap, then at least one aspect of your judgement is up for being called into question.
And there you have it. Not black, and not white. I’m sorry about that, because I know lots of you want to be able to expostulate on one side or another of issues such as this without the inconvenience of having to deal with countervailing tendencies. Tough. I think it’s time you gained a little maturity and wisdom. Like mine, you might say…