Thursday, September 02, 2010

Hague battles on despite rumours

It has become a headline story plastered on newspapers around the world, but allegations of an improper relationship between British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Christopher Myers, a law graduate from Durham University whom he employed as a parliamentary special adviser, has made a difficult job all the more difficult. After unsubstantiated stories circulated on blogs and Twitter feeds, William Hague said he felt the only option was to release a "very personal statement" which he said was "not an easy thing to do".

The long rebuttal to the allegations that he had pursued a homosexual relationship with Mr Myers was an attempt to "put the record straight". Speaking in Germany today he refused to answer further questions and said that his work was what he wished to focus on. "The work at the foreign office will not miss a beat and will not miss a beat," he said.

But the media seem to be more interested in discussing his statement and the allegations rather than his important work for the Foreign Office. Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of The Sun newspaper, said he was "baffled" over the content of the statement. "Why he had to bring in the miscarriages of his wife is baffling," MacKenzie told Sky News. "It's no unusual for men to share hotel rooms," he added, but said the release of the statement has "fed the beast". But despite having made a career of sensationalist news stories, MacKenzie added, "I'm hopeful it goes away".

Of course the issue is only likely to subside if dropped by the media. The rumour mill has further been fuelled by the resignation of Christopher Myers who "categorically denies" any improper relationship. The issue has also raised questions over privacy and the nature of blogging and the bloggers themselves. While many bloggers attempt to keep to the truth, and substantiate allegations, others disseminate half truths and speculation. Of course this can be true also of opinion columns published in newspapers. But the sword of truth should be a foundation of all journalism, both paid for and unpaid for, both amateur or professional [LibDemVoice / Guardian].

Paul Staines who writes under the name of Guido Fawkes has become the centre of attention in this recent storm. His website which styles itself as a "blog of parliamentary plots, rumours & conspiracy", has been described as "one of Britain's leading political blogsites" and attracts more than 100,000 readers every month. But whether it is taken seriously or not it has caused a political stir and has arguably undermined the work of the Foreign Office and sullied Britain's reputation abroad.

There is nonetheless a great deal of support being expressed for William Hague. Most callers to James O'Brian on LBC and Vanessa Feltz on the BBC expressed sympathy with both William Hague and his wife Ffion who has been dragged into the débarque. Many questioned what the allegations had to do with his ability to do the job, even if true. Others also raised the question of privacy. Meanwhile a spokesperson for the Prime Minister David Cameron reported that he offered his "full support" for the Foreign Secretary [BBC].

And the work as Foreign Secretary continues even if it receives far less attention than smear campaigns. Today William Hague was in London meeting with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. The focus of the talks hinged around peace initiatives in the Middle East. "We look to Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu and (Palestinian) President (Mahmoud) Abbas to show the perseverance, commitment and courage needed to achieve a sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside a safe and secure Israel and their other neighbours in the region," William Hague said. Last week he had been in Belgrade for talks with President Tadic and other ministers and the prospects over whether Serbia and Kosovo might one day join the European Union. "We have left absolutely the same message in Serbia," Westerwelle said, referring to the position that Belgrade should abandon its territorial claims on Kosovo, which unilaterally declared its independence in early 2008. The territorial integrity of Kosovo was now beyond any further discussion, Westerwelle said. "We are not opening this book up again."

Since taking up his role as Foreign Secretary William Hague has hardly stopped in his attempts to build ties with other nations. In May he visited Washington before heading Madrid for the EU - Latin America summit and some early conversations with a large number of fellow foreign ministers. He then stopped off in Afghanistan before heading back to London. In June he embarked on a European tour visiting Paris, Rome, Berlin and Warsaw to discuss business and then to the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg where issues surrounding Gaza and Iran sanctions were on the table. He then enganged in talks with the Pakistan President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister during a three day tour of the country. On his Twitter feed William Hague said it was "Important to build a long-term partnership between our nations." In July there were further visits to the Middle East and Asia including Japan, Afghanistan, Malaysia and China. In the last week he returned to Europe, stopping off in Finland for for two days of talks with Foreign Minister Alex Stubb and other members of the Finnish Government. 

William Hague has used Twitter extensively to update his more than 21,000 followers and even held Q&A sessions. But since arriving in Belgrade his Twitter feed had remained somewhat silent. There was indeed no mention of the scandal surrounding his private life, nor a tweet referring to his arrival back in London. It will be unfortunate, as well as somewhat ironic, if the British Foreign Secretary quits Twitter because of the rumours that began on the net. He has been the first high profile British politician to use the social network to keep the public informed and to engage in debate. Whatever one's politics, he has gone further than most to connect with people.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Hague statement:

"I feel it is necessary to issue this personal statement in response to press and internet speculation over the last ten days. Earlier this year a Sunday newspaper began questioning whether my marriage to Ffion was in trouble, and last week another media outlet asked whether there was a statement about our supposed separation. This seemed to be linked to equally untrue speculation surrounding the appointment of Christopher Myers as a Special Adviser. Christopher Myers has demonstrated commitment and political talent over the last eighteen months. He is easily qualified for the job he holds. Any suggestion that his appointment was due to an improper relationship between us is utterly false, as is any suggestion that I have ever been involved in a relationship with any man.

This speculation seems to stem from the fact that whilst campaigning before the election we occasionally shared twin hotel rooms. Neither of us would have done so if we had thought that it in any way meant or implied something else. In hindsight I should have given greater consideration to what might have been made of that, but this is in itself no justification for allegations of this kind, which are untrue and deeply distressing to me, to Ffion and to Christopher.

He has now told me that, as a result of the pressure on his family from the untrue and malicious allegations made about him, he does not wish to continue in his position. It is a pity that a talented individual should feel that he needs to leave his job in this way. Ffion and I believe that everyone has a right to a private life.

However, we now feel it necessary to give some background to our marriage because we have had enough of this continued and hurtful speculation about us. I have made no secret of the fact that Ffion and I would love to start a family. For many years this has been our goal. Sadly this has proved more difficult for us than for most couples. We have encountered many difficulties and suffered multiple miscarriages, and indeed are still grieving for the loss of a pregnancy this summer. We are aware that the stress of infertility can often strain a marriage, but in our case, thankfully, it has only brought us closer together.

It has been an immensely traumatic and painful experience but our marriage is strong and we will face whatever the future brings together. Several years ago one Sunday paper reported that Ffion was three months pregnant, without ever checking the story with us. This made even more difficult the fact that we had only just experienced another disappointment. We have never made this information public because of the distress it would cause to our families and would not do so now were it not for the untrue rumours circulating which repeatedly call our marriage into question. We wish everyone to know that we are very happily married.

It is very regrettable to have to make this personal statement, but we have often said to each other 'if only they knew the truth…' Well, this is the straightforward truth. I will not be making any further comment on these matters."

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