Come out, come out, whoever you are Witch hunt: British tabloids are stomping all over personal privacy as they pull politicians out of the closet.

November 11, 1998|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- In the British press, this is the autumn of the "outing."

In the past few weeks, bare-knuckle journalists have been trampling over the private lives of some of the leading figures in Prime Minister Tony Blair's governing cabinet. So far, three members of the cabinet have been identified as homosexuals.

What began with the resignation of one cabinet minister has snowballed into a frenzy of sex-driven journalism. It has gotten so ridiculous, some in the British media are expressing disgust -- with their own trade.

In an opinion piece titled "Politicians should not be victims of a bitch-hunt," pundit Michael Gove of the Times of London yesterday ridiculed the obsessive coverage: "The suggestion that there is a Velvet Mafia in the Commons, a pink ring of Labor luvvies and a Primrose League of Tory trouser-droppers, is no justification for an hysterical campaign of outing."

In a country that has long been obsessed by the intersection of sex and politics, there has rarely been this much microscopic attention devoted to the private lives of politicians.

That Blair's Labor government should find itself stalled over gays in the cabinet is ironic, since his party never shied away from the subject. Culture Secretary Chris Smith long ago announced he was homosexual and attended official functions with his partner.

But the current controversy erupted in the last two weeks when Welsh Secretary Ron Davies resigned following an incident in which his car and wallet were stolen after he met a man at Clapham Common, a night-time gay cruising area. Davies, married and a father, initially denied he was gay, but later said his sexuality was his own business.

Amid the resulting furor, Matthew Parris, a prominent newspaper columnist who announced he was homosexual while a Tory member of Parliament, went on the country's leading current events television show. There he "outed," Labor's most prominent cabinet minister, Peter Mandelson, the Trade and Industry secretary. Mandelson has declined all comment.

On Sunday, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown admitted his homosexuality after a tabloid newspaper claimed his former partner was trying to sell the story. Later, in an interview, he said: "I had rather hoped I could have a private life like other people do, that was private." Apparently, Brown was forced to divulge his sexuality to the public before telling his seriously ill mother.

Other members of Blair's cabinet rushed to the aid of their besieged colleagues.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said some newspapers were acting as "judge, jury and executioner." Blair's official spokesman emphasized that top jobs were handed out "solely on the basis of ability."

The opposition Conservatives, meanwhile, who were savaged by a series of sexual scandals during the final years of their reign, have been mum on the Labor troubles.

But The Sun of London, the nation's top tabloid, is more than keeping the story alive.

Its coverage suggests it sees itself as the moral champion of the nation -- a slick notion for a paper that routinely publishes pictures of topless women, so-called "Page Three Girls."

The sordid media witch hunt appeared to reach its zenith Monday when The Sun splashed a front-page editorial headlined: "Tell Us The Truth Tony. Are we being run by a gay Mafia?"

The paper noted that there are now four known gays in Blair's cabinet, a number that "has set alarm bells ringing."

"Not because people despise gays, or fear them, or wish to pillory them," the paper wrote. "But the public has a right to know how many homosexuals occupy positions of high power."

The paper added, "We have a right to know about secret liaisons which might explain why certain policies are persistently pursued, or worrying matters kept secret."

The editorial ended, "Come out and end the doubt."

Yesterday, the left-leaning Guardian suggested the public was ahead of the press when it came to the issue of gays in the cabinet.

According to a poll commissioned by the paper, 52 percent of the public supported openly gay politicians holding cabinet jobs, compared to just 33 percent opposed. The results, it noted in an editorial, "proves we are becoming a more tolerant, fairer society."

Pub Date: 11/11/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.