David Mundell, the Secretary of State for Scotland, is gay. And you know what, so what? Of course Mundell is not the first gay Tory cabinet minister, merely, it’s believed, the first to “openly” acknowledge the fact. He did so in typically low-key fashion, writing on his website:
Having taken one of the most important decisions of my life and resolved to come out publically as gay in 2016, I just want to get on with it, and now, just like that, I have said it. How can it be both so easy and so hard to say a few short words?
Good for him and good luck to him. Mundell would not, I think, like to consider himself a pioneer and yet while it has, generally speaking, never been easier to come out in this fashion it remains the case that the general is not the same as the personal. It makes a difference that others have trod this path before you but that does not necessarily make it significantly easier for you to do so.
The reaction to Mundell’s announcement will be interesting chiefly because there will be next to no reaction. There will instead, I fancy, be a collective shoulder shrug, a nod of the head, and a general agreement that it doesn’t matter at all.
And yet, in another sense, it does matter. Because Mundell’s declaration is a reminder that, in so very many ways, this is a better, kinder, gentler, country than it was. Sometimes even a more open and honest one too.
The arc of history may not, as sometimes claimed, bend towards justice but it can tilt in the general direction of happiness. When people talk of ‘diversity’ this is what they should be meaning: simply the ability to be who you are, with neither shame nor favour. Let all the flowers bloom.
It is a sign of progress that this is now easier than it has been. If we must drag politics into this kind of story, it’s worth remembering that the point of the Tory modernisation project was more than just a matter of hugging hoodies and huskies. There was some substance to it as well. It stemmed from the realisation that a successful party must actually like, as well as represent, the country it aspires to govern. (A problem, I am afraid, that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party is in the process of discovering as it turns the clock back, not forward.)
And that meant accepting that times – and Britain – had changed. Which in turn meant that the Conservative party had to change too. That necessarily meant losing some votes to Ukip on the right but this too should be understood as a feature, not a bug. Let Ukip be the home for the disgruntled reactionary, the eye-and-vein-popping malcontent, and the hell-in-a-handcart prophets of doom*. The Tory party would, quietly but genuinely, pursue a different path, one marked by a measure of relaxed optimism, albeit that this would still need to be tempered by a degree of prudent scepticism.
You should welcome all this even if you think you’d never, ever, vote for a Tory candidate. Again, a distinction may be drawn between the worth of a party’s policies and, in this particular instance, the worth of the party itself. Today’s Tory party is a different beast and that’s something worth a raised glass in itself.
David Mundell is gay. So what?
*Yet even Ukip is not immune to the tides of liberalism. David Coburn, the party’s Scottish MEP, is gay too. And if people have a problem with him, it’s not because of that. Which is as it should be.