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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 January 2006, 16:40 GMT
Hughes explains his gay admission
Simon Hughes

Liberal Democrat leadership contender Simon Hughes has explained why he admitted having gay relationships.

The 54-year-old MP said in Thursday's Sun that in the past he had had relationships with both women and men.

He said he had considered dropping out of the leadership contest but did not think the issue should disqualify him from playing a part in public life.

He apologised if he had misled people when he recently denied being gay - saying he had not intended to do so.

Mr Hughes told BBC Radio Five Live the situation had become "unmanageable" this week as newspapers put more allegations, most of them untrue, to his campaign team. He wanted to be judged on his plans for the future of his party.

His leadership rivals, Sir Menzies Campbell and Treasury spokesman Chris Huhne, both said his private life should not affect the leadership race.

I have always maintained that someone's sexual orientation should not be a barrier to public life in modern Britain
Simon Hughes

Mr Hughes recently denied he was gay, saying he had "often" thought about getting married but had not been "as successful as I would have liked".

Asked by the Independent whether he was gay, he replied: "No, I'm not. But it absolutely should not matter if I was."

On Thursday, Mr Hughes said his reply had not been untrue, saying his relationships with both men and women meant he was not easy to "pigeon hole".

By-election battle

But he said: "I apologise if I misled people, I apologise if I unintentionally gave the wrong impression.

Sadly the leadership race is being dominated by the candidates' private lives, not by their policies
Terry Gilbert, Norwich

"But I hope people will understand why people in public life try to put that sort of fence around them.

"And I hope they will understand that it shouldn't disbar people - not just me but anyone else - from public office or doing a job which I want to do and want to do well."

Mr Hughes was elected to Parliament in 1983 in a bitter by-election battle in Bermondsey against gay Labour candidate Peter Tatchell.

In one election leaflet, the Liberals presented him as the "straight choice" .

Mr Hughes said he had apologised publicly and privately for any part of the campaign which had been homophobic.

Right time?

He was tackled by one Five Live listener, who said she was a Lib Dem member and a supporter of Mr Hughes, who now felt let down.

His sexuality had long been known in his constituency and was a non-issue but he was now trying to put "political spin" on it, she claimed.

Mr Hughes apologised, saying he had not tried to mislead anyone and had now made as clear a statement as he could.

"I hope you understand it is difficult to move from the position I took in 1980 to something else," he said.

"Perhaps there was a right time, and perhaps it was some time ago and I didn't. That, I will obviously pay a price for."

'Non story'

Malcolm Bruce, one of the MPs backing Sir Menzies, said he believed the contest would be fought on political, not personal, issues.

Fellow MP Lembit Opik said there could not be a less interesting story and Mr Hughes had merely admitted something that many people had suspected.

Trevor Kavanagh, associate editor of The Sun, said Mr Hughes had decided to speak about his sexuality after being confronted with "pretty incontrovertible" evidence that he had phoned a gay chat line.

Mark Oaten earlier this month quit the Lib Dem front bench after his affair with a male prostitute was revealed. He had already pulled out of the leadership race saying he did not have enough support among MPs.

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