Former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe has criticised the ‘coming out’ of the deputy speaker of the House of Commons, Nigel Evans.
She said that being gay “is not an issue” and that MPs should not disclose details of their private lives.
Miss Widdecombe, a former contestant on Strictly Come Dancing, told The Sunday Times that she would not be backing the launch on Monday of ParliOut, the first LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) network for the Parliamentary staff, MPs and Lords.
Asked if she supported the group, she said: “No I do not. MPs are supposed to be there to help other people not to go whingeing on their own behalf. I cannot understand the modern day emphasis and fascination and obsession with people’s private lives.
She added: “We have had gay MPs since we’ve had MPs…we’ve had gay everythings. It is not an issue and what we are doing now is encouraging your profession to go into everybody’s private lives.”
Her comments came shortly after Nigel Evans, the Conservative MP for Ribble Valley in Lancashire, came out in an interview with the Mail on Sunday. In it, Mr Evans said that a former Labour MP threatened him with exposure. “The MP was saying to anyone who would listen, ‘Why is it that Nigel Evans leads a life whereby he is gay to some people and not others?’”
Although he refused to name the politician, Mr Evans told the newspaper: “I could not afford it to be used as leverage against me. I couldn’t take the risk. I don’t want any other MP to face that kind of nastiness again. I am sure there are other gay MPs who would like to be open about their sexuality but are fearful of the consequences. I hope this new group will help them to do so.”
He said that his decision to come out was partly as a result of a conversation with the actress Vicky Entwistle, who plays Janice Battersby on the ITV soap opera Coronation Street. “Vicky and I went for a drink after the party and she said to me, ‘You’re gay, aren’t you?’ It’s a subject I avoid usually but Vicky is very natural and I told her I was. I thought to myself, ‘I am now telling people I am gay – it’s time I did something about it and told everyone.’”
Mr Evans also said that he regrets not initially supporting the equalisation of the age of consent and the abolition of Section 28, designed to stop the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools.
“I was confused about how to protect youngsters at school. The law did the opposite of what was intended. We shouldn’t have been telling young people that being gay was wrong.”
Despite, Miss Widdecombe’s criticism, senior politicians are backing the launch of ParliOut. Foreign secretary William Hague said: ”I am perfectly relaxed about it taking place. I am not as strict about these things as Ann [Widdecombe] may be. I think I will be a bit busy doing other things this week – I won’t be involved in that myself. But it’s a perfectly good thing to do and I wish him [Mr Evans] well with it.”