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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 January 2006, 15:18 GMT
What is impact of Hughes admission?
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

The first reaction in Westminster to Simon Hughes' confession of past gay relationships was an overwhelming "surprise, surprise".

Simon Hughes
Hughes has admitted gay relationships

Most people in the Commons village believed they had known of Mr Hughes' sexuality for decades - he wasn't "out", but it wasn't something anyone particularly bothered about.

There was even some understanding of why someone in his position in this highly conservative institution might be reluctant to openly admit his sexuality.

The second reaction to his statement was a loud "so what?".

Britain may never have had a gay prime minister, but bachelor status was no bar to Ted Heath running the country.

And there are currently a number of openly gay MPs in senior positions, some of whom may well one day be prime ministerial candidates.

Openly gay

Equally, it is not exactly unheard of for an MP to reach high office while refusing to openly admit they are gay, despite the fact of their sexuality being an open secret in Westminster and, sometimes, even their constituencies.

That was probably more likely in the past when public attitudes towards homosexuality were less enlightened, but there are still some MPs in that position to this day.

Since Labour's Chris Smith, now in the Lords, became the first openly gay cabinet minister in 1997, more MPs have felt able to confirm their sexuality.

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
Simon Hughes
Lib Dem president

It is widely accepted that an individual's sexuality, and other areas of their private lives, is entirely irrelevant.

Indeed all the parties are eager to see themselves as being more representative of all sections of society.

It is not someone's sexuality that is likely to cause them trouble... but dishonesty, hypocrisy or the living of a double life might well.

So Mr Hughes, following his admission that he has had gay relationships, has had to explain why he had recently firmly denied being gay.

He told the BBC: "I apologise if I misled people, I apologise if I unintentionally gave the wrong impression. 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."


He has also been reminded of the controversial 1983 by-election which saw him defeat gay rights activist Peter Tatchell

During the by-election one Liberal Democrat leaflet presented the contest as "a straight choice" and it was marked by allegations of homophobia something Mr Hughes has subsequently apologised for.

Mr Tatchell has himself said it is time to forgive and forget and is urging Liberal Democrats to elect Mr Hughes as their leader.

The other candidates for the Lib Dem leadership have insisted Mr Hughes' admission should be no bar to him continuing in the campaign.

But given the fact that this leadership campaign has been marked by numerous personal revelations, the spotlight is on Mr Hughes and the other two candidates as never before.


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