Earlier this year I was asked if I would to be interviewed by BBC Radio 4’s deputy political editor John Pinar on his weekly Radio 5 live programme. After discovering that I would be given the name of a female politician and have to respond with one of three reactions: “snog, marry, or avoid”. I explained that it really wasn’t my cup of tea and declined the opportunity. I forgot all about it until last week, listening to John Pinar and other journalists relishing every detail of the Westminster ‘sexgate’ scandal.
When Geoff Hoon was appointed Secretary of State for Defence he used a debate to announce an increase in the number of roles within the armed forces which would now be open to females. I welcomed it, but suggested he might even have gone further. I pointed out however, that there was an administrative overhead that would need to be paid, in order to maintain discipline and morale. I quoted St Bernard of Clairvaux “to be always with a woman and not to have intercourse, is more difficult than to raise the dead.”
This provoked a furore: I was universally condemned. There was even an early day motion denouncing me.
I confess to having felt rather smug subsequently, when the papers were full of reports of courts martial cases concerning improper relationships.
The point I made about the forces, with St Bernard’s help, applies equally to Westminster: you need administrative arrangements and rules so that people know exactly where they stand and what standards are required of them.
The current ‘feeding frenzy’ of allegations where the most minor risqué remark is reported in the same breath as a very serious criminal offence is just absurd. It is just about as proportionate a reaction as the Junior Anti Sex League in George Orwell’s 1984.
As, I tweeted last week, I recall my housemaster’s advice when he reminded us of the rule that no boy be alone with a girl in his study “believe me boys, this is for your own safety”. I suspect that a number of parliamentary colleagues wish that they had had that advice, and taken it.
So, had I answered John Pinar’s question, whoever he might have offered me, without doubt: ‘Avoid’