by: James Croft
Here’s the story: Liam Fox, leading member of the UK’s Conservative Party, recently resigned his position as Defence Secretary due to questions over his relationship with a man called Adam Werritty. Werritty, although 17 years younger than Fox, had long been a close friend: he was best man at Fox’s wedding and lived for some time in his flat, rent free. They reportedly conducted business together, met together regularly, sometimes dressed similarly, went to Karaoke nights together, may have taken vacations together…you can see where this is going, right?
Things came to a head when it was revealed that Werritty had presented himself repeatedly as an “adviser” to Fox, although he didn’t ever officially hold that role, and had been present in a number of highly sensitive meetings in which matters of national import were discussed (parallels to the McGreevey affair abound). Werritty organized and attended meetings with a general, a foreign minister, even a president – all without having security clearance or an official government post.
Fox resigned on 14th October.
The political ramifications of this high-profile resignation are wide-ranging, but what fascinates me about the Werritty affair is how it demonstrates that there is a long way to go until gay is OK in British politics. You see, Fox, who was unmarried until his early 40’s, frequently was the subject of speculation regarding his sexuality, even before the full extent of his relationship with Werritty came to light.
A number of his decisions seemed to suggest that he might enjoy the company of men. In 2005, during a bid for leadership of the Conservative Party, it was revealed that he had spent an evening with a rowdy group of college boys in Paris, who had been “desperately keen” to meet a British politician. The party migrated to his hotel room (!), and one of them ended up sleeping on his sofa. In 2010, Fox’s house was burgled, and although it was initially reported that he was alone at the time of the burglary, it was later reported that a “younger man” was staying with him, again on the sofa. Add to this the extraordinary closeness of Fox and Werritty (sounds like a comedy duo…), with their repeated meetings, the vacation breaks, the high level of trust Fox seems to have placed in Werritty, the fact that we know very little about what Werritty did at the private meetings, and tongues will wag.
So it is not the existence of speculation regarding Fox’s sexuality which suprises me: it’s the nature of it. The suggestion that Fox is gay or bisexual — and has been having a long-term relationship with Werritty which he will not admit for fear of what it might do to his political career — makes good sense of facts that are otherwise extremely difficult to explain. Fox’s explanation, on his resignation, that he’d allowed the boundaries between his professional and personal life to blur, fails to account for the astonishing level of access to critical defence-related meetings he provided to someone who had no official government post. The question remains, why is Werritty, 17 years his junior, so important to Fox that he was willing to risk his political career to have him pose as his adviser and arrange meetings with presidents and generals?
The idea that they may secretly be lovers makes at least as much sense to me as the idea that Fox – and extremely experienced politician — has a monumental lack of judgment regarding this one individual because of their long friendship. And, therefore, I think it a legitimate theory to advance when trying to understand his strange behavior.
But although there has been speculation in the press about Fox’s sexuality, what’s remarkable is that very few were willing to offer this highly plausible theory openly and without equivocation. As Stephen Glover pointed out in the Daily Mail (a newspaper not known for its pro-gay stance), much of the press avoided directly suggesting that Fox might be gay. When such suggestions were made, they were often made in the form of crude innuendo and almost universally condemned as “insinuations” or, as Fox himself put it: “whispering in the weeds.”
But why is it considered an “insinuation” to suggest a politician might be gay, and that the close long-term relationship he has had with another man might be sexual? For something to be an “insinuation,” the thing you’re hinting at has to be, well, bad. And (let’s say it all together) it’s OK to be gay. To suggest someone is gay is not to do them a disservice. Gay is not a slur.
In the gasps and hurried denials from Fox’s allies during the affair, and in the way the press seemingly tiptoed around the possibility that this was another public figure feeling forced to live a lie (hardly an uncommon story), we can see the homophobia still evident in British society. Any other explanation for a politician’s bizarre behavior would have been entertained openly and honestly by the press. But the possibility we might be dealing with another McGreevey must not be mentioned: the “gay insinuation” is a step too far.
It is perfectly possible that Liam Fox and Adam Werritty are very close friends, and that the depth of that friendship caused Fox to make serious errors of judgment that led him to resign. It is also possible that Fox and Werritty have been, for many years now, having a sexual relationship in secret. To say so is not to engage in scurrilous rumor-mongering or “insinuation” but to offer a theory that makes some sense of the facts. It will be a good day when we can say: “He might be gay!”
James Croft is a teacher, researcher, actor, singer and a proud, gay Humanist. He teaches and studies toward his Doctorate in Human Development at Harvard University, where he works with the Humanist Chaplaincy as Research and Education Fellow. His work has been published in academic journals, magazines, and blogs. He is a board member of Join the Impact MA, a direct action group working toward full civil equality for LGBTQ people, and a tenor with the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus and Coro Allegro. He writes regularly at his blog TempleoftheFuture.net.