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Sunday, November 8, 1998 Published at 12:37 GMT

UK Politics

Minister's sexuality 'not an issue'

Brown: Reassured Blair in statement

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

There was something inevitable about the "outing" of Agriculture Minister Nick Brown.

As with other MPs, his homosexuality has been an open secret in the Commons for years without raising any great debate.

He is a bachelor and, as the militant gay group OutRage declared, was not guilty of hypocrisy or homophobia or any illegality.

He simply didn't openly confess his sexuality. And the overwhelming view in Westminster was "so what."

But, in the post-Ron Davies climate, it was virtually certain his sexuality would become an issue as the media turned its attention to all those MPs who have tried to keep elements of their private lives to themselves.

There are huge differences between the Brown and Davies cases.

[ image: Statement prompted by newspaper]
Statement prompted by newspaper
Probably the most significant in political terms is that the agriculture minister is said to have given the prime minister a "full account" of his relationship with the young man who has been trying to sell the story since before the election.

Mr Brown insisted he had never paid for sex and that the relationship was one of friendship, not simply sex.

By divulging everything, and with no suggestion of any wrongdoing, the issue will turn into a one-day wonder.

Mr Brown will receive widespread support on all sides in Westminster, particularly because of the nature of his "outing" by a former lover apparently on the make.

That will send a shiver down the spine of many others.

Mr Davies, on the other hand, allegedly refused to give Mr Blair all the details surrounding now notorious "lapse of judgement" on Clapham Common or confide in him more details of his private life.

And, apart from his confused "we are what we are" remark which he insisted was not an admission of anything, he has certainly kept the rest of the world guessing.

That only served to ensure that the issue rumbled on for weeks causing increasing confusion, speculation and, most important for Tony Blair, embarrassment to the government.

The likelihood of a difficult court case makes things worse.

By standing by Mr Brown, Mr Blair has now made it clear where the line should be drawn regarding MPs private lives.

An individual's sexuality is a matter for them and is not, per se, a resigning issue.

"Lapses of judgement", which imply something more serious, are another matter and do require instant resignation.

So long as Mr Brown is not shown to have been guilty of any "lapse of judgement" his position will be secure.

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