This weekend, with rumour and accusation swirling around one of our most senior politicians, I’ve been thinking about the differences between our approach to public life and the French way.
In France, very strict privacy and libel laws would not allow papers to make free, as they have over the past couple of days, with phrases like ‘close personal friend’ and ‘housemate’. Even ‘best man’, repeated with such emphasis, comes to take on its own precise meaning, especially when they keep on printing the same picture of the two men, identically dressed, standing close together and smiling rather coyly. With absolutely no bride in sight. What the British press is coming very, very close to saying is that the politician in question is gay, the ‘advisor’ he has allowed into his office and taken on official Government trips, is his lover, and that the reason he has allowed this man, nearly 20 years his junior, this access and latitude is because the man has a sexual hold on him, or needs simply to be kept on side to stop him blurting out the politician’s secret.
In France, the press would not be allowed to do this. And the French public would, apparently, believe that the politician’s public actions had nothing to do with his private arrangements. Mitterand, after all, had his mistresses and his illegitimate child while in office and no one in France felt that his ability to govern was compromised.
The trouble with Britain or, I should say, with the Tory party, is that you immediately run up against accusations of hyprocrisy. The Tories pride themselves on being the party of the family. The fact that many of the leading Tories over the years have been gay has, therefore, been a matter of secrecy. One did run for the leadership of the party but swiftly withdrew. It was clear that his lifestyle would be exposed if he went further.
To me, it seems ridiculous that these men (and women, I suppose, though there don’t seem many examples) are not being open about their lives. Homosexuality is not illegal, and while homophobia does still, unfortunately exist, I find it hard to believe seriously that voters really care, as long as people are upfront. The man whose career is currently in the balance seems to have tried to conceal details about his life so that he could get as far as he possibly could in the Tory party. Now those very secrets are the things which may well trip him up.
Meanwhile, I feel sorriest for all the Tory wives hidden behind these stories of ‘close personal friends’ and ‘trusted advisors’. Why do they marry these men? Can they seriously be under any illusions? It’s hard to believe, but of course much sadder if they do really expect to live happily ever after with one of these Tories, then find to their surprise that it’s the ‘advisor’ who gets whisked off on all the foreign trips. Oh well, maybe they feel fulfilled making tea for the press camped outside their houses when the inevitable scandal hits. But it wouldn’t be my cup of tea, that’s for sure.