Sunday 5 September 2010
The week that was: sex, blogs and autobiography
Blair isn't the only person to be gleefully dishing the dirt on Westminster, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards
Was Tony Blair a drunk? Has Gordon Brown zero emotional intelligence? Is William Hague straight, gay or bisexual? Will the Miliband brothers commit fratricide? Whatever happened to decent British reserve?
It has been an exciting week for prurient students of UK political leaders, past and present. There was New Labour ex-leader Blair, who launched his memoir, A Journey (a rattling good read, which I'm hugely enjoying), to wall-to-wall media frenzy. Dishing the requisite amount of dirt to fill his publisher's wallet, he gave us titbits about his sex life with Cherie, as well as the confession that the Blair-Brown wars known as the TB/GBs had driven HIM to drink more than he thought he should -- the one-time Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid, product of a Scottish Roman Catholic working-class family, commented: "Where I come from, a gin and tonic, two glasses of wine -- you wouldn't give that to a budgie."
Blair also explained that Brown, who had bullied and blackmailed him for years, had no gut instinct, political feelings or emotional intelligence.
GB leaped upon the high moral ground by announcing The Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown, where -- unlike some he could mention -- he'll speak and write and generally slave for the poor of the world without taking a penny for himself. David Cameron carried his new baby over the threshold of Number 10, as William Hague, one of his predecessors as Tory leader and now foreign secretary, strove to kill off scurrilous speculation in the blogosphere about his sexuality.
There have always been rumours that Hague might be gay, but then, just because he was late marrying, there were many such rumours about Brown, who most definitely isn't. The only evidence I ever heard adduced was nudge-nudge about his close political friendship with athlete Sebastian Coe (evidence: they used to do judo practice together) and the fact that his 13-year-old marriage was childless. Then Guido Fawkes, the formidable political blogger, ran a story saying Hague had occasionally shared a hotel room with Christopher Myers, 25, who had become his driver on the campaign trail and two months ago had been appointed by Hague as a special adviser. There were photographs of them together, casually-dressed and looking happy.
Many of the hundreds of posts were repellently gleeful and crude, Myers couldn't take the heat and resigned from the kitchen, the Hagues saw people trawling through their rubbish and -- though both very private -- were driven through desperation to tell the world that they were childless because of multiple miscarriages.
It was naive of Hague to share a room but many people do. He has now said definitively that he never had a gay relationship, so if he has, and is found out, he will be out of politics. For now, why not assume that a blunt Yorkshireman is telling the truth?
Now to the Milibands -- loving brothers fighting each other for the leadership of the Labour Party.
Politics being dominated in Ireland by a hereditary caste, the electorate is well-used to political siblings. But to the British voter it seemed odd when in 2007 Ed joined his older brother David, then foreign secretary, in the cabinet, as secretary of state for energy and climate change. The sons of Jewish immigrants from Belgium and Poland, they were the first cabinet brothers for almost 70 years.
The media were overjoyed when MiliE, 40, announced he would run against MiliD, 45. MiliD was clearly surprised and displeased, especially when junior became his chief rival, but he assured the world that "brotherly love will survive because brotherly love is more important than politics".
The other three contenders being respectively unknown (Andy Burnham), loathed (Ed Balls, who led Brown's thuggish inner circle) and a bit of a joke (Diane Abbott), the brothers were rapidly turned into what Balls reasonably complained of as a fraternal "soap opera".
Politics, as the platitudinous rightly tell us, is indeed cruel and the brothers' supporters seemed indifferent to the human consequences of their whispered messages: MiliD's aides confided that he had the brains and the stature lacked by Little Bro, while MiliE's people, capitalising on David's slightly weird persona (and the oft-reproduced photograph of him waving a banana), described Ed by contrast as being "from Planet Human".
If David wins, there will probably be a rapprochement, and Ed will serve under him. But although MiliD eventually and under pressure grudgingly said he would do likewise if MiliE won, few believe he could bring himself to do so. As the psychologists are explaining over the airwaves and in newspapers, after 45 years as top dog, David would be psychologically incapable of graciously yielding his place to the boy who, until recently, faithfully followed in his footsteps.
In Ireland, one imagines that for Conor Lenihan to suggest he could challenge Brian for the top job would earn him a clout from their Auntie Mary. The MiliMother, reading the increasingly hysterical press about Cain and Abel, must be wishing she had done something like that to Ed.
My conclusions this week are that Blair wasn't a drunk, Gordon Brown (for all that his advisers forced him for electoral reasons to be mawkish on television) has zero emotional intelligence, William Hague is a happily married man who may or may not innocently enjoy the company of handsome, attractive men, and Planet Miliband will be okay if David wins but may break apart if Ed does.
As for decent British reserve? It died in the early Nineties when a vengeful Princess Diana spilled her most intimate beans to the sensationalist biographer Andrew Morton.
Ruth Dudley Edwards