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Tuesday, November 10, 1998 Published at 09:28 GMT

UK Politics

Public backs gay MPs

Nick Brown says he just wants to get on with his job

An opinion poll has found 52% of those asked think being openly gay is compatible with holding a cabinet post.

The survey, carried out by ICM for The Guardian, suggests British attitudes towards homosexuality are shifting.

It comes days after Agriculture Minister Nick Brown was forced to admit his sexuality, under pressure from allegations by a former lover.

[ image: Brown: Admit homosexuality after threatened revelations from his former lover]
Brown: Admit homosexuality after threatened revelations from his former lover
His personal statement followed the resignation of the former Welsh secretary Ron Davies, who quit after being robbed by a man he met on Clapham Common.

Although Mr Davies has denied gay sex led to his downfall, the area is a notorious gay pick-up spot and he has failed to stamp out the suggestion.

The veteran Tory peer Lord Tebbit also recently said homosexuals should be banned from holding "sensitive" cabinet positions, such as home secretary.

Until Mr Brown's recent admission, there was one openly gay MP in the cabinet: the Culture Secretary Chris Smith.

But, following the agriculture minister's enforced outing, The Sun asked on its front page whether Britain was being ruled by a "gay mafia".

The tabloid on Tuesday claims Prime Minister Tony Blair has lent his support to its stance.

Its interpretation was based on comments made by the prime minister's official spokesman who disagreed with complaints made by the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party about the handling of the Nick Brown affair.

Mr Brown himself declined to make a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.

[ image: John Prescott: Condemned the press's handling of the Brown case]
John Prescott: Condemned the press's handling of the Brown case
Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott attacked the media, condemning its tendency to act as "judge, jury and executioner" on people's private lives.

But he and Downing Street struck the same note when asked if the matter would lead them to re-consider introducing a privacy law for the UK.

The government was quick to rule out any suggestion it would seek to protect the politicians and other prominent figures from press enquiries.

The ICM poll suggests the public would back such legislation, however.

Amongst the random sample of 1,222 adults asked, 49% supported protection for politicians, 69% for the royal family and 53 for celebrities.

A majority of respondents also said they thought homosexuality was morally acceptable.

But 36% said they thought it was not acceptable and 33% said it was not compatible with holding a cabinet post.

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