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Monday, 29 July, 2002, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Senior Tories back gay MP
Alan Duncan
Alan Duncan speaking to the BBC's Guto Harri
Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith and new party chairman Theresa May have backed Alan Duncan after he became the first sitting Tory MP to declare publicly that he is gay.

Mr Duncan's "clear and unequivocal" statement that he is gay comes amid apparent feuding between Tory modernisers and traditionalists.

David Davis was axed as party chairman in favour of Mrs May after anonymous claims that he was blocking Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith's more inclusive agenda.

I hope the taboo is now broken

Alan Duncan

Mrs May told BBC Radio 4's World at One that, combined with her appointment as chairman, Mr Duncan's announcement showed the Conservatives were an "open, decent and tolerant" party.

The shadow foreign affairs minister has never kept his sexuality from friends and colleagues.

He told BBC News on Monday: "I hope the taboo is now broken and people can talk about politics not these sorts of issues."

The MP said he had received "fantastic" support for his move from his Rutland and Melton Mowbray constituents.

In a letter Mr Duncan Smith said: "I understand how difficult it must have been for you to have made such an open statement about your private life.

"What you have done is honest and will not affect you in any way politically in the future... let me take this opportunity to wish you the very best and give you my personal support."

Earlier, Mr Duncan had told the Times newspaper: "The Tory view has always been, 'We don't mind, but don't say'. Well, that doesn't work any more.

"I think the only realistic way to behave these days, particularly if you are a politician, is to be absolutely honest."

Iain Duncan Smith
Iain Duncan Smith supports Mr Duncan's decision to come out
Some Labour MPs are openly gay but Tory MPs who have been outed in the past have resigned or subsequently lost their seats.

In January, the Conservative Party signalled a change in its approach to gay issues by calling for homosexual partners to be given some of the legal rights held by married couples.

Mr Duncan hoped his decision would make the "path of others easier" but insisted that no one should feel obliged to discuss their private life.

The frontbencher claimed that in the past senior colleagues would "mutter behind their hands" about his sexuality and thought it was too much of a risk to promote him.

"That sort of behaviour is an outrage, but I don't sense it applies to the party now," he added.

Tory member Jean Searle from Leeds, who is a former president of the Conservative national federation, said the news about Mr Duncan was no surprise to her.

She added: "What disturbs me is that people actually have to come out and say what they are."

Michael Brown, former Conservative MP
Michael Brown says there have been many gay Tories
Mr Duncan has been a central figure in Tory politics for more than a decade.

His home was the headquarters for John Major's successful 1990 leadership campaign and he organised William Hague's 1997 victory.

He supported Michael Portillo in the most recent leadership battle but Mr Duncan Smith promoted him to shadow the Middle East minister in the wake of 11 September.

Kenneth Bool, chairman of Mr Duncan's Rutland and Melton Conservative Association, praised the "excellent work" done by the MP.

"His honesty is not an act of confession, it is a refreshing act of initiative and typical of the man," said Mr Bool.

Liberal test

Mr Duncan's decision to talk publicly about being gay will test the drive to make the Tory party more inclusive and socially liberal.

Some commentators believed Michael Portillo's decision to talk about his past gay experiences hindered his attempt to become party leader.

Former party chairman Norman Tebbit stressed he was backing Mr Duncan Smith in the contest because he was a "normal, family man with children".

Michael Brown, who resigned as a Tory whip in 1994 after the tabloids reported about his holiday with a man just below the then gay age of consent of 21, said there had always been many gay Tory MPs "in the closet".

"What Alan Duncan has done is to make sure that next time there is a Tory MP doing this it is just one big yawn, which is what it should be today," Mr Brown told BBC News.

The BBC's Shaun Ley
"What bothers Iain Duncan Smith is the Tories' image problem"
Alan Duncan
"I hope the taboo is now broken"
See also:

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