LONDON, U.K. - Anyone in Britain who is even the slightest bit politically minded must surely be asking himself at the moment: How much worse for the Liberal Democrats can it get?
First, Charles Kennedy was expelled from the party after he admitted his alcoholism. The only interesting thing about their interim leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, was the pronunciation of his name - "Ming-iss, not Men-zees!" - and then soon after the Kennedy debacle, senior Lib Dem Mark Oaten's political career was fubared by revelations that he cheated on his wife by partaking of the services of rent boys.
The Liberal Democrats were declared dead in the water by this point. But wait - it gets better!
Another senior Lib Dem vying for the leadership of the battered party, Simon Hughes, was asked repeatedly about his sexual preference in the wake of Mark Oaten's fall from grace. He insisted he was straight and said it was a lifelong goal of his to get married. Now, however, it's clear that it's gay marriage he was probably thinking of.
This month alone, he has denied his homosexuality four times. One of these denials came during an interview with The Daily Telegraph on January 14. Mr Hughes stated, with regard to being gay: "The answer is no, as it happens, but if it was the case - which it isn't - I hope that it wouldn't be an issue." Hughes also spoke to The Telegraph of relations with women that "haven't quite ended in marriage." He went on to deny allegations of his homosexuality to The Guardian and The Independent as well as on the BBC television affairs program Newsnight.
You can blame this on the eagerness of the press to create scandal, which they thrive on. You can also say that his sexuality is not an issue - and you would be quite right. I don't see what being gay has to do with one's ability to make a hard-working member of Parliament myself.
On Thursday, January 26, Hughes admitted to The Sun tabloid, "I am perfectly willing to say that I have had both homosexual and heterosexual relationships in the past. I hope that does not disqualify me from doing a good job in public life and I propose to carry on doing that with the usual enthusiasm and determination."