THIS IS A LITTLE LONGER THAN USUAL
31st May 2010.
I have already said publicly that the last few days have been the longest, toughest and emotionally most testing of my life.
To have your privacy wiped away, your sense of self respect shredded, and your career in the Cabinet ended, all within the space of 36 hours, is not an easy thing to happen.
But the root cause of my difficulties has been a decision I took long ago, which logic has never succeeded in changing – the decision to cover up my sexuality.
No one person or institution is in any way responsible for my decision to keep my sexuality secret. It is just that when I grew up – just a decade or so after homosexuality was decriminalized in this country – you would have had to be very brave indeed to be “out” in a way that is possible today.
So I found it much easier to be dishonest about my sexuality, and as time went by it seemed to me to become more difficult rather than less difficult to correct the lies and deceptions of earlier years.
Before the 2001 election, I rented a room in a flat in London, with my main home being in Yeovil Constituency. Later, I began a relationship – the very first of my life – with the landlord of that flat, who I knew from the Liberal Democrats. That relationship has continued ever since, though we have never been open about it to any of our friends or family, as a result of my desire for privacy and – I suppose – my reticence as a public person to have my private life exposed to public gaze.
Last week those attempts to protect my privacy were shattered when the Daily Telegraph contacted me on Friday morning to say that they were intending to run a story alleging that I had paid rent to my “partner”, in breach of the rules which were changed in 2006 to prevent renting from “partners”.
I could have asserted that James and I are not partners – indeed, we have no joint bank accounts or mortgages, no wills, and do not present ourselves as a couple. Nor does he benefit from any of the advantages that would accrue to declared partners, such as free travel to commute to my constituency home.
But I realized on Friday that 35 years of dishonesty about my sexuality had finally got to end – and that I could only hope to counter the allegations being made by telling more lies or by ending the relationship which has brought most happiness to my life.
The next 36 hours were absolutely ghastly, and I do not think I could have had the guts to get through them without the calm strength of James, and the support of people such as Jane and Paddy Ashdown and my constituency party, family and friends.
I also appreciated the strong support of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and George Osborne, who all urged me to carry on in my role as Chief Secretary, which is the most important and fulfilling job which I will ever have in my life, other than my role as local MP.
I decided I must resign as Chief Secretary for three reasons – firstly, because that job is so vital that it needs 100% attention and credibility for anyone who is doing it; secondly, because I could not imagine how I could continue in that job, fight off media attacks, and take care of those I love; and finally because I had had to acknowledge that I had made a serious mistake, and it seemed to me that I must pay the price for that mistake.
Losing my privacy and revealing my sexuality has not proven to be as painful as I expected, after the initial trauma. Indeed, it will be wonderful that I can now introduce the person I love and value above all others to my family and friends. I shall always be grateful to the Daily Telegraph for that! I will also be able to set a much better example, as a public figure, to my constituents and to those others struggling with their own identities.
Losing my job as Chief Secretary is a tough blow to take – I relished the challenge, and really felt this was a role where I could make the difference in national politics which I have always sort to achieve. But, frankly, no one is irreplaceable.
It is the blow to my self-respect and perceived integrity that I find hardest to take. It is difficult for people to understand that my financial arrangements were based on my desire for privacy, not any intention to exploit the expenses system. If I had wanted to maximize my claims, I could have designated my Somerset home, which has a huge mortgage on it, as my second home. Or James and I could have bought together in London, and I could have charged the mortgage and other items to parliamentary expenses. All of these options would have been more financially beneficial, but all would have risked ending the privacy which I so valued. As for those who continue to wonder why a “millionaire” should need to claim expenses at all, I am afraid to say that the money I earned in the City was exhausted a long, long ago. After I left my well paid City job I worked for 5 years for the Lib Dems on around £14,000 per year, and after being selected here as Parliamentary Candidate I worked for two years with no income at all.
Still, that is all now a matter of history and record. I will try to pick up the pieces of my life and rebuild. I am hugely grateful to all those who have sent in kind messages to sustain me in these difficult days – many of these have moved me to tears.
The greatest honour of my life has been to be the MP for Yeovil Constituency, and I am very sorry to have let you, my constituents, down. I now have to decide how I can best serve the people of Yeovil Constituency in the future.