Thursday, January 26, 2006

On political judgement

So the Scum have found proof that Simon Hughes is less than completely straight. Count me unsurprised - it has been pretty well-known among active Liberal Democrats that he was bi since before I joined the Party in 1997. For the Scum, homosexuality is sufficient to condemn him - although fortunately this is unlikely to affect any election results, since this particular rag is trusted by the public even less than politicians.

All the other papers have, of course, jumped on the story because sex sells. Unfortunately, they need a non-homophobic excuse for printing scuttlebut about a politician's private life. The least lame attempt comes from large numbers of Lib-Dem hating lefties such as these Guardian newsblog commentators. They tell us that Simon ran a homophobic campaign against Peter Tatchell in the Bermondsey by-election. This is still pretty lame, because he didn't. The infamous "straight choice" leaflet did not describe Simon as a straight choice, it described the election as a straight choice between Tatchell and Simon - an implicit squeeze against the "Real Labour" candidate John O'Grady (who was responsible for most of the homophobia). On the other hand, it isn't that lame, because it's easy enough to falsely claim that Simon ran a homphobic campaign and rely on the fact that the public won't understand the facts.

For those who aren't prepared to lie, they are left with the standard lame trick used to nail politicians in sex scandals - the "it's not the sex, it's the lying about the sex" line. Unfortunately, Simon didn't lie either. He has never claimed to be straight, never gone campaigning with his wife and kids, never made sexuality an issue in his political career beyond being the unwitting beneficiary of a homophobic campaign run by other people. Fortunately for the muckrakers, he had however just denied being gay in an interview. While he isn't gay, he is bisexual.

This isn't actually a lie. Simon is a lawyer, and knows this. It isn't even particularly Clintonian - gay has a definite meaning, and Simon is not gay. But nevertheless I cringed when I heard that he denied being gay. What people want from their politicians is honesty, not legalistic truth. Simon's denial was (deliberately) misleading, and was therefore a political misjudgement for which he is now paying the price. Had he given the correct answer of "I'm not married, so it's my business who I sleep with." then the speculation that inevitably surrounds a single man in his 50's would have continued. But there wouldn't have been a story the respectable papers could print about the outing.

How will this affect Simon's leadership chances? In my view, a major lapse of judgement should be held against a candidate. We need a talented politician who knows when not to leave hostages to tabloid fortune. On the other hand, it isn't a resignation issue. Mark Oaten unfortunately had to go because he had become a national laughing stock. (Within the Party he was a laughing stock before the rent boy story broke, but that's a different matter). Simon Hughes is just a politician who was outed as gay. He is still perfectly capable of doing his job.

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  • At 7:30 pm , Anonymous jdc said...

    Viv, if Simon didn't run a homophobic campaign in the by-election, then why did he himself apologise for doing just that, this week? There are plenty of other headlines you could choose besides 'the straight choice'. "It's a two-horse race" would have done fine.

  • At 1:14 am , Anonymous yolly said...

    JDC, this, presumably, makes the entire Scottish Labour Party homophobic, as recently as last year?

    The fact is, Simon recently apologised, with typical courtesy, for the perception that a tiny part of the by-election campaign was homophobic. Tatchell has no problem with him, and I would ask you what really matters: Simon's decades of Liberal empathy concerning gay matters, or one line in one leaflet that he probably didn't see before it went out?

    He's still by far the best man to lead the party, and I hope he does.

  • At 1:55 am , Blogger LibertyCat said...

    This isn't Viv. This is me. If you know who I am, I don't need to tell you. If you don't know who I am, you don't need to.

  • At 9:26 am , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    Hi JDC

    In 1983 I was sufficiently young not to be following the Bermondsey by-election so anything I hear is by rumour.

    And, let's be honest here, beyond that it was a nasty by-election (like Hartlepuss) and some people somewhere were homophobic at some point... it is all heresay.

    The only clear evidence is the 'straight choice' message and this was been used elsewhere where homophobia wasn't an issue. Yes, they could have chosen a different message but it could have been ignorance of the unfortunate pun, rather than homophobia.

    Whether there were 'kissed' badges at all and who was wearing them is way into shouting and hair-pulling territory. And even if some liberals *did* have the 'kissed' badges then there is no guarantee that:

    a) Simon knew anything about them b) they were 'organised by' the liberal campaign
    c) anyone on the liberal campaign was aware of them at the time

    As with any political party, your occasional help isn't always as enlightened as you'd like.

  • At 9:31 am , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    Bear in mind, Simon's apology wasn't "My campaign was homophobic, sorry...". It was:

    "I apologise for any part that I wittingly or unwittingly played. Nothing should require people to suffer the sort of abuse and indignity that he [Mr Tatchell] did in that campaign."

    Which actually reads "The fact the by-election was very unpleasant was awful for Mr Tatchell. If this was anything to do with the liberals - sorry."

    I've already blogged about Simon having a reputation for not being the most organised person in the world so it is possible individuals on the campaign were homophobic without his knowledge.

  • At 12:02 am , Blogger Angus J Huck said...

    If anyone in the Labour Party is sufficiently hypocritical to accuse the Liberal Alliance campaign in Bermondsey of homophobia, they should ask Michael Foot (still alive at 92) why he denounced Peter Tatchell ex cathedra to journalists. It was Foot's unguarded comments which encouraged the tabloids to explore Tatchell's sexuality as much as the behaviour of Tatchell himself. (And Tatchell said some really silly things in those days, it has to be said.)

  • At 12:50 am , Anonymous jdc said...

    Oh for heaven's sake.

    Yolly: There's a difference between "a straight choice" talking about the generality, and "the straight choice" when the specific alternative is gay. More's the point *Simon has admitted that this was wrong*.

    Libertycat - Sorry, my bad.

    Viv -

    a) That link doesn't go anywhere, but if you're referring to the ginger dynamite post about Brecon, you should be aware that actually the Tory candidate *was* rumoured to be gay, and indeed the Lib Dems had to pulp a leaflet describing their candidate as "the only normal family man".

    b) The badges did exist. If you hang around long enough on uk.politics.electoral you'll even come across people who admit to wearing them.

    c) The apology in the interview specifically involved the interviewer producing a copy of the "straight choice" leaflet, and Simon saying "that should not have happened and I have apologised".

    Angus - Michael Foot denounced Peter Tatchell because he was a Trotskyist, not because he was gay. There's also a rumour that Foot got him mixed up with Peter Taafe (a worse Trotskyist). Certainly the ex-Labour MP helped with homophobic opposition to Tatchell, but he was supporting another candidate at that election.

  • At 5:44 pm , Blogger Angus J Huck said...

    Peter Tatchell never was a Trotskyite (in the sense that he supported the Fourth International). And he was not in any way associated with the Militant Tendency, the Chartists, the Blick-Jenkins Faction or any other Trotskyite entryist group.

    Peter Taaffe, on the other hand, was a leading member of the Revolutionary Socialist League (Militant).

    I think it unlikely that Foot got the two mixed up. Both were very well-known and quite different (in appearance and politics). Besides, Foot had pronounced homophobic opinions (possibly the result of attending Leighton Park School).

    PS: Someone the other day seemed to think that Foot's wife was Jill Tweedie, the late "Guardian" journalist. She was Jill CRAIGIE.


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