The politics of a personal life
PinkNews.co.uk’s Tony Grew asks if Tory spokesman Gregory Barker’s privacy pleas amid reports of a gay affair are warranted..
The free paper LondonLite made much of yesterday’s revelation that a leading Tory MP has left his wife and three children and embarked on an affair.
Given that the paper often talks about sexual liaisons in a knockabout fashion, runs speed dating competitions and sex tips, it seems strange that it took such a straight-laced tone when reporting what would appear to be a marriage breakdown. After all, the majority of marriages end in divorce.
The headline says it all. For anyone who thinks that the battle against prejudice has been won, consider this: “Cameron stands by his gay green guru.”
The ‘gay’ in question is Bexhill Battle MP Gregory Barker. He was elected in 2001, your classic Tory, pretty wife proudly sporting a blue rosette, three adorable children aged 11, six and seven. A multi-millionaire who made his money in recruitment, not from an inheritance.
LondonLite reports that Barker ‘left his wife and children for another man.’ The facts are slightly different. The couple split in July. It is alleged that Barker has been having an affair with a male interior designer, but no proof is offered for that.
There are three issues this story raises. The first is sexuality. Gay and straight media alike are guilty of calling people gay or lesbian, merely because they have had a gay experience.
Bisexual people exist, and it is interesting that the gay community are considerably more bi-phobic than most straight people. A lot of gay men and lesbians regard others who say they are bisexual as liars.
Lesbians in particular seem somehow threatened by women who swing both ways. While it is true that a lot of gay men identify as bisexual as a way of easing themselves into their gay identity, that does not mean bisexuality is a myth.
Gay and lesbian bi-phobia makes it easy for the tabloids and the broadsheets to use the word GAY out of context, to create lurid headlines that are factually incorrect.
Mr Barker has yet to make a public statement about how he identifies himself sexually, and it is up to him to decide if he is gay or bi or just pansexual. There are differences between those identities and gay and lesbian people need to confront their own prejudices.
This leads neatly to the second issue – is it really any of our business what MP Gregory Barker does in his private life? And are politicians even allowed a private life?
The so-called public interest for this story is that Barker did not vote for some gay rights legislation. That is why journalists think it is acceptable for them to print a long rambling statement from his mother-in-law and wild speculation about whether Barker will be sacked.
To his credit, David Cameron has not so much stood by his shadow environment minister as treated the whole matter with the contempt it deserves. In a short statement to the press, Barker said, “I am entitled to a private life.”
Is he? This is a profound question, as it will decide the sort of politicians and politics we will have in the future. I speak as someone with the passion, drive and intelligence to want to hold office. Whenever friends ask me why I do not, the answer is simple.
The press are homophobic, and I have done so many things in my life that would make headlines, I would not want them exposed. I would not want my mother to have to read lurid tales of drugs, group sex and other bad behaviour.
As political correspondent for PinkNews.co.uk, I speak regularly to gay and lesbian MPs, councillors and prospective candidates. All of them have to be so careful with how they act in their private lives. All have to be aware that any accusation of immorality against them will get a lot more coverage in the tabloids.
What you do when you are in office is another matter, I accept that. But if we want representation we have to go easier on our MPs, otherwise all we will end up with are party automatons, never done a days work in their lives, never got so drunk they vomited, essentially acted the politician from the day they were born.
Mr Cameron is right to just ignore sniping at his trusted colleague over his personal affairs.
The more hysterical gays in our broad community were quick to try to portray the unfortunate Barker as some sort of homophobe.
Their “evidence” for this was that he had voted against some gay rights legislation, such as allowing gay couples to adopt.
Let me explain why he did. It is the same explanation of why he voted for the civil partnerships bill in 2004.
It’s called being a party politician. For those of you too busy highlighting homophobia that does not exist, let me explain how that works.
MPs represent a particular party. The leader of that party decides, through a system called whipping, what the party thinks about issues. The MPs are then directed how to vote by the party leadership.
From 2001 – 2003, that leader was Iain Duncan-Smith. It was the “Quiet Man” who ordered his MPs to oppose gay rights legislation. Some did defy him – notably Michael Portillo and current party Chairman, Francis Maude, crossed the floor of the House to vote with Labour.
I would not expect a new MP, gay, bi, lesbian or anything else, to defy their party and ruin their career by voting for a bill that, given the huge majority Labour have, would almost certainly have passed anyway.
The absence of Labour MPs such as Gordon Brown and Ruth Kelly from symbolic gay rights votes raises a lot more questions than a backbench Tory following the party line.
Gay moaners need to try and gain some understanding of how politics actually works. David Cameron, also a new MP, voted against something he believed in.
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He did not get a reputation as a rebel. He got himself up the ladder to the extent that as party leader he can say sorry for the previous homophobic position of the party. His genuine desire to make the Tories more inclusive means a lot more than what way he was instructed to vote at the start of the last Parliament.
Finally, Greg Barker was elected to represent the people of Bexhill Battle. They voted for a Tory MP, not a gay activist. Surely his job is to honestly represent the views of his constituents, many of whom no doubt do oppose gay adoption.
It is nonsensical to demand that gay MPs only represent what the gay community thinks. They are party and constituency representatives first and foremost. The good thing about having gay and lesbian voices in parliament is that those voices are heard.
It is naive and dangerous for gay activists to expect MPs to vote against the wishes of their constituents and their party just because they prefer boys to girls.
Just like it would be ridiculous for Ruth Kelly to be a Catholic first, a Labour party member and constituency MP second.
Tony Grew is political correspondent for PinkNews.co.uk and also writes for politicsjunkie.co.uk