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2 September 2010

Hague should have known the dangers of sharing a room

It brought down at least one Tory MP in the past.

By Sholto Byrnes

William Hague’s private life should be his own, and it is dismaying that he has felt it necessary to make a statement talking about his marriage and denying a relationship with a male aide. It is surely wrong, too, that Christopher Myers, the 25-year-old special adviser who appeared recently in pictures with the Foreign Secretary dressed in ill-advisedly youthful attire, should leave his job over reports consisting of no more than base and smutty innuendo.

Hague should have known, however, that sharing a hotel room with Myers could leave him open to just such smears. He must surely remember the case of David Ashby, a Tory MP from 1983-97, who was forced to resign as a PPS in 1994 after it came out that he had done the same.

Challenged at the time about the dual occupancy of rooms with another man in St Omer, France, the married Ashby said: “So far as I am concerned I spent a holiday with a close friend. We went to two hotels. In the first one we managed to find twin beds and at the second one we didn’t. It doesn’t make any bloody difference.”

Ashby said he was trying to save money — as, presumably, was Hague. But it didn’t go down well. In his account of the Major administration, Guilty Men, the former Tory special adviser Hywel Williams described the story thus: “David Ashby, a Leicestershire MP, promoted holiday economy by sharing a bed with another man in an act that seemed to provide opportunism and meanness.”

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Hague and Myers only shared a twin room, but the “nudge-nudge” continues, even in the Guardian this morning, which ends one article in quite an astonishing manner:

Tories said they believe Hague’s statement that he has not been involved in a relationship with Myers. But they drew parallels with his close friendship with Lord Coe, his chief of staff and judo partner when Hague was Tory leader. “He was quite smitten,” one Tory said.

That leaves a rather bad taste in the mouth. As does, however, the net result of this “scandal”, as it will inevitably be dubbed. Given the unfortunately prurient press we have in this country, it was poor judgement for Hague to share a room with an aide, of either sex. If there was nothing actually wrong with it, however — and I don’t believe there was — he should come out and say so. And no one should have to lose their job over it.

After all, given the drastic cuts the government is making, perhaps we should even be encouraging ministers to share rooms with their aides — two to a bed, three to a bed, as many as can fit. Should we not enjoin them to endure a little discomfort in the noble cause of parsimony?