What the butler saw
Tom Baldwin sees some queer goings on behind closed doors
The Tory party, the Church of England and the royal family. The British Establishment as it once was; all of them still terrified, confused and fascinated by gay sex. There is only one old Queen in Buckingham Palace but countless old queens fussing over her. If 'bashing the bishop' is still slang for masturbation, some bishops will insist on bashing those of others. And Conservative Central Office? Well, it is famously as camp as a row of tents.
But the Bible maintains it is an "abomination for one man to lie with another", (or more specifically sodomise him), and the poor old Church is tearing itself apart over whether the local vicar should be allowed to join in. Meanwhile the Tory party remains the political home of homophobes who rage and legislate against the 'unnatural' sex so many of them have enjoyed. And the royals cling to that capital 'F' in 'Family' partly because their men feel it is their duty to set an example to the rest of us by going into the Forces, hunting animals and penetrating women preferably distant relatives who look a bit like horses.
Such contradictions did not cause too much trouble when these three institutions commanded respect or at least deference. But it is not so easy now, as events of the last few months have shown.
Start with recent goingson at the Palace. Newspapers are not allowed to disclose details of what George Smith, a former footman, saw when he peered through a royal keyhole. ( If you still don't know what he saw, it really is time you learned how to use the Internet).
Suffice to say, it would be easy to make a very good joke about the 'gagging order' taken out by Clarence House against publication, but I would probably end up in prison if I did.
Though the allegations may well be untrue I really don't care either way the point is that the way the royals have reacted reveals that they think the very notion of one of them indulging in, eh, whatever, would bring the entire British monarchy trembling to its knees (whoops! There I go again).
But the law of averages, not to mention the science of genetics, would suggest that at some point in the last 50 years a member of this family might just have experimented with gay sex.
Millions of ordinary families, even some of those who read the Daily Mail, have managed to come to terms with their sons and daughters coming out. The royal reluctance to be similarly relaxed about the subject is especially odd when you consider that they are, by all accounts, extremely tolerant of the gay sex which is rife, possibly rampant, in their servants' quarters downstairs.
But, of course, that is all under club rules. They are allowed to have their secret codes and private jokes, just so long as they do not have to share them with us. So, the royal family retreats behind its castle walls, ever more out of touch and ever more ridiculous as some of those same servants leak it all out to the press. Poor pay and patriotism do not always guarantee loyalty.
Instead, their palaces are packed with gay men who see the monarchy as iconic in the same deeply camp sense as Carry On films, Princess Di and Margaret Thatcher.
Like the royals, Mrs Thatcher and other Tory leaders tolerated and sometimes connived with homosexuality in their midst provided it was kept securely within the inner circle.
Michael Portillo could never be leader, we were told, because he had once had sex with a man and then banged on about it years afterwards. The party's attitude has always been 'these people don't need to discuss what they do in private, we don't want it rammed down our throats, so to speak, ha ha.'
There are some signs of change. Michael Howard has just appointed a gay man as his chief spin doctor and last year Alan Duncan became the first Tory MP in history to come out, rather than be outed.
But many more remain barricaded inside the party's overcrowded closet. From there they can do nothing to stop Conservative colleagues opposing any extension of gay rights or the liberalisation of sex laws. When you hear this justified on the grounds that 'innocent young boys' must be protected, it is the authentic voice of the (still) nasty party.
The Church of England is not nasty, just pointless. A rough summary of the recent debate goes as follows: Are gay men allowed to become bishops? Will we, won't we? Is he, isn't he? What is that thing she's wearing? You never did! What, during communion?
Dr Rowan Williams may lament the pain this is all causing across the Anglican world, but for the moment wouldbe bishops are probably best advised to keep quiet about their homosexuality in other words lie and make it up to God later.
While the Church, the monarchy and the Tories all need to recognize their essential 'gayness' as institutions, they should do so gently and remember the recent experiences of Chris Bryant, the Labour MP who posted pictures on a gay dating website of himself wearing nothing but a pair of Yfronts.
None of this should matter because he is single and open about his sexuality. But it seems worth pointing out he was once also a Tory and a CoE vicar. Some scars take a very long time to heal.