The Dissenter's Voice

The ocassional comments, opinions, rambling and rants of a liberal dissenter in New Labour's Britain

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Not quite so liberated afterall

It's now almost 4 months since I left Lambeth Council by popular demand and I discover belatedly that I'm the subject of a short piece in the 'Radical Bulletin' section of Liberator (head nod to Donnacaidh McCarthy) the self proclaimed guardians of British liberal conscience.

The June edition of that august journal contains a comment on the South London Press's sexpose of my personal ad on Gaydar, a popular gay dating site. For those who don't know it the SLP is a local tabloid newspaper with a reputation for - how can I put it - 'sensationalist' reporting.

The SLP published the article just before this years local elections in Lambeth where I was standing for re-election to the Council. The article accused me of posing naked for explicit photos 'too shocking to publish in a family newspaper'. Using carefully chosen words it implied that the pictures were of me performing some kind of sexual act. While I have never denied posting the ad I've been silent about its central allegation of a sexually explicit photo.

Given that the Liberator has chosen to perpetuate this accusation I think it’s now time to set the record straight.

Like 250,000 other gay men in the UK I have a profile on Gaydar. However, there are no sexually explicit photos on my ad and there never have been. What there was though, in common with very many other ads on the site, was a full body shot with my private parts obscured by my hand.

Was this a reckless thing for an elected councillor running for re-election to post on the net? Certainly. Was it naive to think that it shouldn't be an election issue? Probably. Was it wrong? Definitely not!

Liberator seem to take a different view however. Their article was disappointing, its not just that they took at face value the comments of a tabloid newspaper owned by a Labour peer, its not just that they failed to ask me whether or not the accusations were true, its not even the fairly obvious pleasure they take in seeing the downfall of a fellow liberal who has taken an opposing political line to them in internal party debate. What is so disappointing is the whole tone of the piece - which is just so.....illiberal.

You see Liberator seem to argue that there should be a different set of behaviour for those who seek office from those who a elect them - in their words "when one voluntarily enters public life there are some constraints". Apparently if you are in public life it is only acceptable to live a modern gay lifestyle if you are secretive and embarrassed about it - a sort of 'don't ask, don't tell' policy for politicians. Well I'm afraid I am comfortable and happy with who I am. I refuse to accept that what is perfectly acceptable in everyday life should be treated as something shameful & shady in public life. I don't believe that it is wrong in 2006 for a man, gay or straight, to look for dates over the internet. Indeed, to be fair, no-one has really suggested that it is wrong - just that I was wrong to be so open & public about it. Well, I came out when I was 16 and I'm not about to start sliding back into the closet now. If the price of being open about who I am is to lose office then that is I'm afraid a price well worth paying.

I doubt I'll ever run for office again - having been a political activist all my adult life now that I've tasted freedom I must confess that I rather like it. However, this isn't just about what happened to me - it's about what kind of politicians we want as a society. How often have we heard the complaint that politicians are aloof and separate, that one of the causes of political disaffection is that they lead lives completely divorced from the experiences of the electorate. Now we are told that it is only those people who conform to an imagined ideal of behaviour who are fit to hold office. Surely we can't have it both ways.

Yes 'when you voluntarily enter public life there are some constraints' the public have a right to expect certain standards from their elected representatives. They have the right to expect that they will not break the law, the right to expect that they will not do or say one thing in public and another in private, they have the right to expect that they will not do anything that stops them fulfilling the job to which they were elected. But what they do not have the right to is determine how a politician lives their private life. By private, I don't mean hidden and unseen - I mean that part of their life that is not accountable, whether it be that they go to church on Sunday, have a secret taste for barn dancing or they get dates on the internet.

If we want to have politicians who are vaguely recognisable as members of the human race then we are going to have to stop attacking them for being...well....frankly...human. That is particularly true of those who so presumptuously claim to be in the vanguard of liberal thinking. For me the role of Liberals is not to criticise people for exercising their freedoms it is to defend them.

28 Comments:

Blogger rkjfyoung said...

This is a very belated comment because I have only just read your posting, Charles, but I certainly hope you will relent on your observation "I doubt I'll ever run for office again". It's no good being an "all round political anorak" unless you are ready to run for office, and it seems to me that straight-talking, clear thinking people like you are in desperate short supply. Your experience at the hands of the South London Press, and Liberator, certainly cannot have been pleasant, but your riposte to them was a pleasure to read. Right on!

6:25 PM  
Blogger Stephen Tall said...

Really good post, Charles. Prompted me to think a bit, results here: http://oxfordliberal.blogspot.com/2006/09/what-is-it-we-want-from-our.html

(Hope you don't mind being quoted.)

11:21 PM  
Anonymous Jade Farrington said...

Good for you, I certainly won't be renewing my Liberator subscription.

7:59 PM  
Anonymous griswold said...

'Small Govt libetarian'. Sounds like you are in wrong party. I think your personal life is yours and if this causes offence then you are better off doing your own thing anyway. Shades of Town without Pity by Gene Pitney. All the best.

9:35 PM  
Blogger The Cat said...

Charles - your treatment at the hands of the SLP (& Lambeth Labour) was a disgrace and that Liberator should parrot their line leaves a very unpleasant taste in the mouth.

I don't always agree with everything you say but you're a very talented politician, a genuine Liberal and have an awful lot to offer both the Party and the public. It would be a tragedy if you were not to stand for office again ...

9:45 PM  
Blogger Paul Walter said...

Charles

I think we all deserve a bit of a rest from politics sometimes , so I am glad you seem to be enjoying yours, but I hope you come back with a vengeance in some capacity.

Don't take any notice of Liberator or SLP - you did nothing wrong. By the way, did you really lose your council seat because of the SLP coverage? There were nine other LD seats lost in Lambeth so can you honestly say there was a direct and complete connection ? (after all didn't Chris Bryant appear in the press for more or less the same thing - except I think he left his briefs on - and win a subsequent election?).

I have always been an enormous admirer of your sharp brain, your impeccable Liberal instincts and your extraordinary and powerful speaking skills. You are an enormous asset to the Liberal Democrats. So for goodness sake don't be deterred by SLP or Liberator and I hope you continue to enjoy your life and your politics without being deterred by any of this.

Best wishes to you

10:23 PM  
Anonymous ac said...

I am a conservative voter (libertarian by ideology) and came across your site via Iain Dale's blog. I am sorry that your sexuality is such an issue, especially to the so called Liberal party.
Continue in politics or not, its your choice, but live your own life and rest assured most of us, from any political persuasion, believe you have done nothing wrong!

12:10 AM  
Blogger James Cleverly said...

Charles,

Don't give up. Pretty soon this will be ancient history, just don't stand against me. ;-)

James

9:38 PM  
Anonymous Susanne said...

Don't know what to say about the Liberator.

Don't let this knock you back. It would be tragic if you didn't stand for office again...

3:29 PM  
Blogger Liberal Legend said...

Charles, I have to say that I am gobsmacked at Liberator who, with some of the members of their collective, should frankly know better.

Give yourself some time and then, for the sake of the country, run again when you are ready. You are too bright and talented to sit on the sidelines going to waste. We cannot build a Liberal Britain if people like you take a backseat.

12:02 AM  
Blogger Bullseye said...

Well, thanks for some very kind words. To be honest though I really do doubt that I will ever run for office again. The electorate gave me some pretty clear advice to go away and do something else and I intend to take it....anyway I’m rather enjoying having a real life again after such a long time.

I'm not sure I'm very suited to being a modern politician anyway. Although the pic on my ad was about as explicit as an Adam Rickett’s video or a clip from the Full Monty posting it was a silly mistake, a daft thing for someone who wanted a political career.

But that’s really my point – a modern politician has to be far more calculating and cautious about what they say and do and how they appear than I am prepared to be. I just don’t want a political career hard enough to change my life into something more ‘politically’ acceptable. If the price of that is that I no longer have a political career then so be it - life goes on without me & my life goes on without politics.

But the wider question is do we really want politics only populated by people who want office so badly they will jump through any & every hoop to get there? Even more importantly there are other people, far more talented and worthwhile than me, who will make a similar calculation to mine and decide that politics is just not worth giving up the rest of their lives for. In my view politics will be the poorer without them and we will end up with a political class who simply have no relationship with the real world.

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Tabman said...

Charles - a very thought-provoking piece with a strong strain of liberalism running through it.

Rest assured that the small minds at the Liberator collective who thought of that piece do not represent the majority, and that "our" view of what it is to be Liberal is in the ascendent.

We need politicians like you - erudite, forthright and not afraid to tell it like it is. And to defend liberty. Enjoy your break from active politics - but please make sure it is just qa break!

9:40 AM  
Blogger Valerie said...

It wasn't a mistake, naive, reckless or anything else, and nor do the 'constraints' of public office extend to not having a profile on Gaydar. The issue isn't how you were treated by the voters; it's how you were treated by Lambeth Labour, who in this went beyond even the low expectations that could be had of them. You had a profile - which was not explicit - under a pseudonym on a website for and of use to gay men, and Labour decide that it's ok to use that in a decidedly homophobic way.

Shame on Liberator.

I'm glad you're enjoying your freedom, but let's just say that if no one ever got to hear the likes of your Vauxhall selection speech again (the first live speech I heard from a Lib Dem and one of the very best) it would be a very, very sad thing.
:(

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't believe that Lib Dems lost all the three seats in your ward because you put an ad in Gaydar. Blame Labour's dirty campaigning, they needed to show that they can win somewhere, so they trew the kitchen sink to Lambeth, and didn't hesitate to use dirty tricks.

Lambeth, though, is a traditional Labour area. Have you considered standing somewhere else?

10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the sake of clarity, here's the Liberator article in full...

COCK OF THE WALK
One of the most enthusiastic supporters of Mark Oaten’s
leadership campaign was former Lambeth councillor Charles
Anglin, who lost his seat to Labour by a large margin.
This may have been connected with the front page of the
South London Press (31 March), which revealed that he had
posed naked on a website “handling his private parts” and
revealing his tastes for wrestling and “a little sweaty rough
and tumble”.
Anglin’s defence in the newspaper was: “It is my private
life. I am a libertarian. I don’t see what the fuss is about. I am
a gay man and I’ve always been open about my sexuality.”
Fair enough, but when one voluntarily enters public life
there are some constraints. Imagine the uproar if a
heterosexual councillor had similarly displayed himself with
the message “come and get it girls”.
Meanwhile, Oaten regaled readers of the Sunday Times (7
May) with an explanation of his antics (Liberator 308),
attributing his conduct to the onset of baldness.
These revelations hardly do the party much good. A
period of silence from him would be welcome.

I don't think you can really accuse them of homophobia. However I'd me more worried about the accusation of supporting Mark Oaten's Leadership campaign.

12:06 AM  
Anonymous leftwingliberal said...

Charles,

How naive ! And, you are not being quite honest about Gaydar. It is, for the overwhelming majority of users not about seeking what you coyly describe as 'dates', it is a place for men to pick up other men for sex.

Many of the pictures are more graphic than the one that you posted.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that in itself, but was inevitably going to lead to you being ridiculed in the SLP.

Sadly you gave SLP the ammunition. Maybe you should pen a reply to 'Liberator' along the lines of your posting on your web blog ?

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