There have been a number of novels and TV dramas recently about political intrigue and double-dealing at Westminster. Just about all of them have featured an MP (usually Tory) who is being blackmailed with threats of outing. The situation is so ubiquitous that it has become a cliché. But, as they say, life is much more dramatic than art —and in the case of Jerry Hayes, one has to say, more melodramatic.
Mr Hayes is said to have first learned about the impending News of the World exposé from a reporter from The Sunday Express the day before it was published. The nonchalant MP reportedly responded: “I certainly haven’t heard anything to date about a story being published about me. I’ll just keep my head down. I’ve just been away with my family on holiday to France and I don’t know about any impending scandal. You can come and doorstep me if you want. I’ve been around long enough, I know how the game works.” Subsequent events indicate that Mr Hayes has absolutely no idea how the game works at all.
Given the experiences of so many previous victims of The News of the World, you would have thought that any politician worthy of the name would have anticipated the dangers in starting a liaison with a callow youth and writing soppy love letters to him on House of Commons notepaper. But not Mr Hayes. Despite all that has gone before, all the political nous he claims to have, and all his legal training, he still went ahead and did all the things that would eventually and inevitably lead to his downfall.
The newspapers have called him “a prat”, “a perverted pip-squeak”, “a joker”, “a fool” and “a deceiver”. It seems he deserves each of these sobriquets. And to add to his list of follies he has started libel proceedings against the News of the World. My advice to him on that topic can be summed up in two words: David Ashby.
There are no heroes in this melodrama, only villains and victims. Mr Hayes himself, to begin with, seems to fit both roles. Although there has been some sympathy for him (the general opinion seems to be that he’s a nice guy but a buffoon), I’m afraid I don’t share it. Not only is he the architect of his own downfall, he insults gay people as he tumbles. Whatever the truth of the story that appeared in The News of the World, I could have lived without Mr Hayes’s assertion that his feelings for Paul Stone were “unhealthy”. Given that he is supposed to be a great supporter of gay rights, we now know exactly what he thinks about gay relationships. His indignant insistence that he is not gay carries with it an implied insult to all of us. Maybe he isn’t, but does he have to be quite so insulted at the mere suggestion?
There are other serious aspects to the situation which have not gone unnoticed. A relationship counsellor, Jean E Findlay, wrote to The Guardian making an important point about the behaviour of MPs in general: “It is not the sex life or orientation that we need to know about, but the individual’s capacity to lie and deceive in order to cover up their actions; for they are betraying the person or people, who are supposedly most important in their lives. How much easier [it would be] to be dishonest in situations with less at stake.”
And then there is Paul Stone, the grasping, greedy youth who says he went public because he felt guilty about what he had done and because he wanted to expose Jerry Hayes’ hypocrisy. But alternative motives shine like a beacon: revenge and the desire for large amounts of News International’s filthy lucre. An unnamed “friend” described Paul Stone (in The Daily Express) as “a nice, middle-class mother’s boy” when you first meet him, “but when you get to know him…he’s ruthless callous and selfish. He’s only out for himself, that’s the way it’s always been with him.”
Then we have the editor of The News of the World apparently “gutted” at having to run the story. He said he did so — only after “long consideration” — because Mr Hayes compromised security at the House of Commons by giving Stone a security pass, because he was in love with an 18 year old when the age of consent was 21, because Mr Hayes cheated on his wife while extolling his love for his family and that he sent his love letters through the free Commons post. Can you drown in crocodile tears?
Then we have sleaze-merchant-in-chief, Max Clifford who claims he is a Labour supporter and that he took the story to The News of the World because he wanted to damage the Tories. I see little sign of Mr Clifford donating his £25,000 rake-off to the Labour Party’s election fund, though.
Then we have the Labour Party itself, which on the one hand claims that Mr Clifford has nothing to do with them and on the other has John Prescott sneering: “I said a couple of days ago that John Major’s new push on family values was bound to end in tears — and it has.”
As The Independent said in an editorial: “Imagine how much more publicity Prescott would have attracted if he’d simply said ‘This is a private matter which has nothing to do with Mr Hayes’s ability to serve as an MP.’” That’ll be the day.
And then we have the Tories pushing all this “morality” clap-trap as though they even know what the word means. Does it mean, for instance, Mr Howard’s policy of chaining women remand prisoners to their bed while they are being treated for breast cancer, as happened last month? Or do they mean kicking political refugees out of the country to face an uncertain, maybe terminal, fate in their own country? Oh yes, morality takes on an amazing elasticity in the hands of the Conservative party.
Next comes Roy Greenslade maundering in The Guardian’s media pages about the “amorality” of newspapers, especially The News of the World. “The tendency among liberal critics of stories like the Hayes exposé”, he writes, “will be to throw mud at The News of the World and Max Clifford or the tabloids in general. But that misses the point. These are servants of the culture, panderers to the appetites of a public which refuses to grow up. Oh yes, and one laced with homophobia, too. Have we learned nothing since Oscar Wilde was carted off to Reading Jail?”
But wasn’t Mr Greenslade himself one of the prime panderers to public prurience only a few short years ago when he edited The Daily Mirror? Isn’t this the same Roy Greenslade who, in 1990, ran a grotesquely homophobic three page story about Prince Edward and his denial that he was gay? The one that went on and on about the Prince’s supposed effeminacy, his lack of manliness, his fondness for the “darlings and dearboys of the theatre world”? Is this the same Roy Greenslade who tried to excuse his running of that story by saying that if he hadn’t, some other paper would have done?
And after pinpointing the rather squalid bunch of villains in this farrago, we now turn to the victims who have to stand on the sidelines and absorb the muck that the political parties, the papers, the betrayers and the money-grubbers throw at each other. Leaving aside the obvious contenders — Mr Hayes’s wife and children, there are other less obvious losers in this mess — you and me. For when everyone has finished “accusing” each other of being homosexual, via the medium of Britain’s slimy popular press, public homophobia is reinforced and justified. Readers of the tabloids are left with the impression that homosexuality is disgraceful, shameful, sordid, underhand, unworthy and something that must be denied and hidden at all costs.
And because this is an election year, and because the tactic has proved so successful in the past, we can expect more of the same between now and the spring. As The Sun said in an editorial on January 6th: “It’s no good pretending that public attitudes to homosexuality have changed — they haven’t to the extent that voters will turn a blind eye to what Hayes has been up to. The thought of a married man writing explicit love letters to an underage boy revolts people — never mind what they got up to between the sheets.”
This kind of public hostility is easily exploited for political advantage, and the desperation of both parties will ensure that maximum points will be scored at our expense.
Reader’ Awards 1996
It is gratifying to see that the top two favourite newspapers among readers of Gay Times — as nominated in our readers poll — are The Guardian (by a mile) followed by The Independent. Nice to see that we are loyal to those who are loyal to us. The Times also made a decent showing — maybe because of gay columnist Matthew Parris and maybe because of the low price. The Telegraph — which seems more and more like the Church Times every day — garnered only a handful of votes.
The Daily Mail received almost as many thumbs up as The Pink Paper did, even though the Mail is avowedly gay public enemy number one. The Sun, I’m gratified to see, seems to be setting as far as GT respondents are concerned. It was way down the field this time round. The tacky Star and its equally ugly sister The Express hardly figure at all in the survey. Which brings a big sigh of content from this column.
Sunday newspapers aren’t your favourite, with only The Observer, Independent on Sunday, Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday figuring. The other newspaper nominations were for regional dailies and specialist papers like the Financial Times and Racing Post.
Favoured straight magazines covered a large area from Psychology Today to Radio Times, from The New Internationalist to Take a Break, with no over-all favourite, which seems to indicate that our interests are as varied and wide-ranging as the rest of the community.
Of the gay magazines, Gay Times topped the poll, receiving four times more nominations than Attitude, its only real competitor. Boyz trailed well behind these two with The Pink Paper even further behind. Our sister lesbian magazine Diva made a showing, as did the pin up favourites Vulcan, Zipper and Euroboy. Spanky received a small pat on the bum and the Bisexual Community News was also there among the minority interests.