What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

November 04, 2006

Remember you're a liberal

Greg Barker, Tory MP for Bexhill and Battle, hit the headlines last week after it was revealed that his marriage has broken-up, and he is having a gay affair with his interior designer.

What should be the liberal response to such a story? Well, decide for yourselves...

One of the following quotes is from Mary Verrell, the Lib Dem candidate at the last general election; the other is from the Battle Observer, the local newspaper. See if you can guess which is which:

Quote 1:
"So who is this man, Gregory Barker, who Bexhill and Battle elected as their MP and who, whether we voted for him or not, is our representative in Parliament? Probably, not the one that many thought.

"His constituents have a right to know what sort of person he is, not as a matter of salacious gossip, but so that they have an honest picture of the man who represents Bexhill and Battle in the House, and who, we assume, will be asking for their vote again before very long. ...

"As to the plea for privacy Gregory Barker has chosen a life in the public eye. Of the 46,834 who voted in 2005, 24,629 chose to trust this man to speak for them, largely on the basis of his political persuasion, but additionally on the information fed to them in his election address and in the media."
Quote 2:
"Greg Barker is undoubtedly the talk of the town in Bexhill. ... And why? Because of allegations about his private life. ... His private life indeed should be private.

"How the people of Bexhill - and indeed the whole constituency - will react to this is another matter. Open-minded people will say 'So what, who cares?' Others may not take such a sympathetic view. ... He obviously has problems in his personal life and he should be allowed to resolve them.

"How he decides to conduct his private life in future is his choice. If he has a homosexual relationship, then so be it. Equally, if he has a heterosexual relationship, then so be it."
Sad to say: the sanctimonious and censorious Quote 1 is the Lib Dem; the tolerant and liberal Quote 2 is the local rag.

However alluring the bandwagon, however tempting the opportunity to be quoted, I'd like to think our aspirant MPs would resist the urge to utter such judgemental bollocks.

6 comments:

don j said...

What refreshingly good sense!

Jock Coats said...

Trouble is, the quote from the PPC goes on longer, and talks about his record in voting on equality issues and on the environment.

She doesn't mention sexuality once I don't think. It may be implicit that that's the trigger for making her statement at all, but ISTM she's using the occasion of his sudden noteworthiness to point out that this is a Tory uber-loyalist who has been preaching on the environment while arranging stunts like the Hug-a-Huskie stunt.

I think she's being clumsy personally. Almost too careful to avoid using the sexuality thing in her story, but in not mentioning it, she gives the impression it is somehow unmentionable and therefore more remarkable than it ought to be.

I can't imagine that, in Bexhill and Battle, she's one of our great hopes, is she? We've all seen PPCs of all parties, higher up the pecking order than she probably is, try clumsily to make hay out of their incumbent's rare forays into noteworthiness.

When I posted about Greg Barker, someone did ask whether I would be less forgiving if I knew of his voting record on gay issues. I know a lot of people who would feel that they would, though I've clearly mellowed from my days as screaming OutRage! acolyte..:)

Stephen Tall said...

Jock - at the risk of an obvious joke, I think she's trying to have it both ways, with enough innuendo to make clear what she means.

The obvious way to make the point is: "Greg Barker's private life doesn't bother me. His public voting record does. Etc."

Paul Walter said...

I must admit to getting them mixed up and thinking that the PPC statement was actually the newspaper one.

I thought this was a non-story but his voting against pro-Gay issues does raise questions about hypocrisy which seems to be endemic in the Tory party on matters of sexuality. (It seems that there is a breed of men (like - allegedly - Pastor Ted in the USA) who wrestle with their sexuality by publicly denouncing others for the same inclinations. Strange but true. )

Another example is those happy family snaps in election circulars. Putting aside the gender of sexual affinity, there are many examples of candidates shown posing with families and then a few months after they are safely elected they announce separations from their wives. This is not a peculiarly Tory thing but it seems to be rather more endemic within the Blue party than in others. I can think of at least three Conservative examples where this has happened. My chief reaction to this is not one of anger at their hypocrisy, but sadness and bewilderment that they feel compelled to put up a family front at election time.

Jonathan Wallace said...

I'm in two minds about this, and frankly, what our candidate said is as nothing compared with the way I was treated by the Labour party when I "came out" in 1992 general election as candidate in Hexham. To recap, just before the start of the election campaign the Conservative MP Alan Amos was arrested on Hamstead Heath and cautioned for acts that I guess are better performed behind closed doors. He was very much on the right wing of the Conservatives, backed section 28 and at some point during the 87 election when he was first elected, had suggested he was engaged (the young lady in question after his arrest in 92 denied there was ever an engagement and distanced herself from him). So in effect he was spinning a false image of himself. The Tories saw fit to dump him as their candidate (he then went on to join the Labour party) but the press went to town on him not so much because of the gay issue, but because of the hypocrisy. He didn't help himself by denying he was gay. When I came out 4 days later (the press had been told by the Labour party to come knocking at my door), the issue was about the shock of having 2 gay candidates in the same constituency! (What is the world coming to!) Even in the early 90s, being openly gay in politics was a rare occurence. It was therefore newsworthy just as it wouldn't be now.

The Labour campaign against me was very nasty and I even had Labour members ashamed of what their party was doing apologising to me after the campaign (though they themselves did not come from Hexham.)

But I suspect there is some degree of similarity between the conduct of Amos and Barker though Amos conducted himself in a far more unworthy manner. Perhaps our candidate was showing a degree of frustration that Barker had lived a lie behind a wall of spin for so long.

Frankly, if I had an opponent who voted against gay rights or behaved in other hypocritical ways, such as overplaying the happily-married-family-man image, I'd go to town on them.

The other issue however is how much of your private life should be private. And if details of your private life become public knowledge, is it right for opponents to jump on the bandwagon? That depends on the history of the person in the first place. Hypocrisy of public figures is fair game. If you publicly spin a message about your private life, you get what you deserve if the reality becomes public.

I appreciate that my views my be coloured by the fact I lived through the media hurricane about my private life and survived even though interest in it was generated as a result of the fall out from the stupid and hypocritical behaviour of a third rate opponent, rather than anything I had done myself.

Where I differ from our Bexhill candidate is in the implication that constituents should be informed in advance if a candidate is gay. No one has a "right" to that information. But no one in public life has a right to spin a lifestyle image whilst living another and then expect privacy when the spin falls apart.

Andrea said...

I think the problem with the former PPC quote is the whole first part. She doesn't make homophobic comments or mentions his sexuality, but it's clear where she was aheading to and she should know how it can play with a traditional, conservative audience.
If she just wanted to highlight his hypocrite voting record (I think an opponent has the right to highlight it), she could have just said: "he voted against X, whilst doing it. Now I would like to know the reason of his vote."