Labour’s PR guru comes across as insecure about his sexuality and has done little to help the cause of gay equality.
Peter Mandelson is fearless and decisive about everything – except his sexual orientation. It is the one issue on which he appears to be extraordinarily unconfident and reticent.
“He is paranoid about his sexuality and doesn’t know how to deal with it”, according to one of his colleagues who was quoted anonymously in The Daily Telegraph two years ago.
This ultra-sensitivity was evident in the way Mandelson responded on discovering that The Independent on Sunday had spoken to a former boyfriend. In an irate phone call to the paper, he made clear his discomfort and displeasure: “The time may come one day when I want to talk about these things, but not now. Not at this stage in my political life”. As well as reeking of insecurity, this response also had more than a whiff of career calculation.
It was back in 1987, before Mandelson became an MP, that he was first outed by The News of the World in a front page story headlined, “My love for gay Labour boss”. To his credit, Mandelson didn’t deny the allegation or threaten to sue for libel. But he didn’t admit the truth either.
I know the truth. Well, some of it. Mandelson met a friend of mine, a member of the gay rights group OutRage!, during trip to Moscow a few years back. This was not part of a ‘honey-trap’ outing plot. My colleague fell, quite genuinely, for Mandelson’s charms and good looks. He is, apparently, regarded as highly fanciable by many gay professionals, once being voted into the top ten ‘Hunks of the Year’ by readers of the gay magazine HIM.
Three years ago, when ex-Labour MP Bryan Gould regurgitated the News of the World exposé in his political memoirs, Goodbye To All That, Mandelson again reacted with stonewalling silence. It is alleged that he found the repeat revelations personally embarrassing and feared they might undermine his long-term political goals which, some insiders claim, include party leader and Prime Minister.
Decrying Mandelson as over-ambitious, a few poisonous critics even spread the rumour that the decision to shave off his ‘gay clone’ moustache was a career move designed to ‘butch-up’ his image and prepare himself for higher office.
Gould’s book generated considerable interest in the gay press. Gay Times sought, without success, to question Mandelson. In the words of reporter Colin Richardson, the magazine was “firmly but politely rebuffed”. Indeed, Mandelson, unlike the four openly gay MPs, has never given an interview to the gay media, never appeared at a gay community event, and never publicly endorsed the campaign for gay human rights.
Unsurprisingly, he is not much liked by lesbians and gay men. In contrast to fellow MPs, Chris Smith and Stephen Twigg, Mandelson does not figure in the ‘Most Admired’ category in the annual polls conducted by the pink press.
His rating took a further nose-dive when, in the book, The Blair Revolution, he proposed the idea of a state dowry to young newly-weds, and subsequently rejected the suggestion that this dowry might be extended to same-sex couples.
There is a general feeling within the gay community that Mandelson is not doing as much as he could to help secure equality. Some even claim he is responsible for de-gaying Labour Party policy.
Labour’s 1997 election manifesto ditched key gay rights commitments that had been in its 1992 manifesto, including the all-important promise to outlaw discrimination against lesbians and gay men in housing and employment.
More recently, it is alleged that Mandelson is behind Labour’s reversal of its pre-election pledge to lift the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces. While his coterie argue there is no electoral advantage in supporting an end to the ban, last October’s BBC Panorama poll found that two-thirds of the public back the right of gays to enlist. Mandelson is, it seems, not only dragging his feet on equality, he’s out of step with public opinion too.
Published as “Why Mandy Won’t Let Sexuality Queer the Pitch”, Punch, 31 January 1998.