On BBC News 24 yesterday Lembit Opik was asked, with reference to the self-outing of LibDem leadership candidate Simon Hughes, 'Why now?' Opik said he didn't know. The BBC should have asked Jo Moore. Or anybody else with an ounce of nous. They would have told him, Simon Hughes chose now to admit he was gay because compared to pretending to be a cat in a lab coat or paying rent boys to shit in your mouth, being gay is a picnic in the park. Or else the Sun threatened him, claiming to have enough to out him whether he liked it or not, and Hughes agreed to come out cleanly and give the paper its exclusive. Either way, it has rounded off what has been an unsavoury and particularly superficial month for British politics.
First there was Charles Kennedy, who finally moved out of denial and into the eternal rehab of the sickly spotted liver, plunging the moribund Lib-Dems into a leadership battle which, although somewhat on the seedy side, has at least got them back on the telly. The subsequent outings of Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes are in many ways worlds apart: Oaten is a married man with a family,
whereas Hughes is single; Oaten was allegedly involved in 'a bizarre sex act too revolting to describe', whereas Hughes has merely confessed to having had 'both homosexual and heterosexual relationships in the past'; Oaten was forced out in a Murdoch tabloid sting, whereas at least Hughes has the benefit of the doubt. But in the final analysis, Hughes' assertion that, 'It would be very sad if people felt that their sexuality prevented them from holding high office' could equally apply to Mark Oaten.
So what if he visited rent boys, made them dress up in football strips and degrade him in indescribably revolting ways? Does that make him any less capable of leading a political party? Or even of governing a country? Thomas Jefferson fucked his slaves. Gladstone was a whoresman without parallel. Clinton pushed cigars into his interns. Did it affect their ability to do their jobs? Surely no more than our own sexual peccadilloes affect our own ability to do our jobs.
Frankly, we would hate to be married to Mark Oaten, but a job is not a sex partner, and the sooner sex and politics are kept properly separate, the better for all of us. As for Simon Hughes, really, who gives a fuck? As one caller put it on Radio 5 yesterday, 'If he was dressed as a Nazi doing it with donkeys that would be interesting, but this is just dull. It's a non-issue.'
Much more of an issue is that bloody bastard George Galloway. His experiment in 'a different kind of politics' came to an end on Wednesday evening when he was finally evicted from the Big Brother house. As he left the house and posed for the press, boos and loathing rained down upon him like a plague of toads, and one of the young people he so wanted to reach out to yelled the word 'wanker' in his smug, grinning face. In the subsequent interview with Davina McCall, Galloway was shown a selection of newspaper headlines that he'd missed while he was inside. Slowly his grin began to turn in on itself. 'Oh dear,' he said.
Wednesday night of course, will have been spent catching up on the media massacre and working out the best damage limitation strategy. But really, does it matter that Galloway spent nearly three weeks playing games and bickering in front of television cameras? His intentions were good - to reach young people with a political message; he claims to have received no MP's salary for the time he was in the house; he even channelled money from the show to a charity, albeit a charity that some consider a slightly dodgy one. So does his time in the Big Brother house really affect his ability to do a good job? Well, we think it does. Much more so than, say, having sex with men.
Although most of the press attention seemed to focus on the purring and lapping of imaginary milk, the dressing as a vampire and the prancing in a leotard, there were more disturbing moments for Galloway watchers. The hypocrisy, for example. One minute George was proudly championing the underdog, the next he was meekly standing by, allowing a towering transvestite to claw misogynistic lumps from a woman who is really little more than a slightly ageing cheerleader. Then there was Galloway's own rather psychopathic viciousness and bullying, his arrogance, his self-righteousness, his supercilious name-calling, his strange ideas about loyalty, his downright childishness and his total lack of self-awareness. This latter was best demonstrated when Davina asked him why he thought he'd been evicted from the house. Galloway replied, 'Maybe they want me back on the road.' No, George, no. They think you're a cunt. Period.
In one way however, Galloway was spot-on. This was 'a different kind of politics'. Usually you are allowed to judge politicians solely by their broken promises, back-pedalling and carefully written apologies. In this case we were given the rare opportunity to see a politician up close, warts, psychoses and all. Consequently we have a much clearer picture of the real George Galloway. And as much as he says he doesn't regret it, we bet he bloody does.
We can only conclude then, in the name of transparent politics, that all future elections must be fought from beginning to end under Big Brother house conditions.
Then we really will get the politicians we deserve.