Forget the fact they shared a room. The discomfort of William Hague’s response speaks volumes, says Alex Gabriel.
Yesterday the headline in The Guardian was cheeky: ‘Hague: I did not improperly hire aide.’ It’s a euphemism which in future I might borrow (‘Who did you last improperly hire?’) and which shows up feelings of very obvious distress. Responding in a public statement to gay rumours involving a special advisor he room-shared with, the usually cocksure William Hague was off his game, speaking without fluency and avoiding eye contact with the press.
Needless to say, the speculation is baseless. Ridiculously, unambiguously so. The idea that in 2010 two men can’t share a room without being lovers is absurd, and almost certainly the bloggers who first joked about it at Guido Fawkes all know that. If the Foreign Secretary did want a young man on his team, appointing him as a special advisor and sharing hotel rooms to save on costs would ironically be the most convincing excuse – it’s such a mundanely normal event, no one but satirists would ever imply an affair.
Why then is Hague so worked up about the rumours? Rather than dismiss the gossip as silly, he called a public press conference and made detailed statements about his wife’s inability to have children before having Christopher Myers, the aide in question, resign. The only reason this is a story at all is the energy he put into the denial: the talk of affairs would never otherwise have made headlines, but Hague’s attempted quashing only lit a match underneath them.
Had this been one of the Milibands or (say) Nick Clegg, it would’ve been laughed off instantly. The distress Hague has shown is wildly disproportionate, making him seem either secretive on an affair he did have or sickened wholly by the thought of one he didn’t. The shared hotel room does even begin to look sordid, precisely because it’s too trivial to cause someone innocent this amount of bother. Closet homosexual, insecure homophobe or both; given his party’s track record, either is entirely plausible.
There’s definitely a latent puritanism to the Conservatives, and Hague is among the politicians most bound up in it. Think of the free schools that can stay away from sex ed; think of banning job centre ads for strippers. Think of Ann Widdecombe. (On second thought no, don’t. I’m sorry.) This for one thing makes their sex scandals entertaining: Labourite feathers are generally not ruffled by the thought of adultery or expenses claims for porn, but a Tory MP reading a ‘My loving wife and I…’ speech is genuinely the stuff of sketch shows.
More importantly though, these are the parts of his party David Cameron likes to hide from the public as best he can, gunning for a modern and socially liberal image. It seems from the coverage that Downing Street insisted on Hague’s statement – considering its overtones, this feels somewhat odd. Is some kind of PR operation going on here, if not a gay affair? If the Cameroons are deliberately exposing their party’s homophobes, will Hague be some kind of sacrificial lamb, sneered at for being uptight while Cameron looks broadminded? A lot more would need to happen for us to know, but something tells me this story won’t go away.