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Sex, Lies and Politics

Gay Politicians in the Press

Donna Smith has extensive experience in social scientific and political research. She is an Associate Lecturer in Politics and Social Sciences for the Open University, where she also works in faculty management. She completed her PhD at the Open University in 2009, after working in Westminster politics. Her BA (Hons) and MA were studied at the University of East Anglia.

Sex, Lies and Politics: Gay Politicians in the Press provides a much-needed analysis of the changing representation of gay politicians in UK newspapers. Focusing on the 1950s onwards, a time when the press became more personal and gay politicians/politicians involved in gay scandals came to the forefront of media attention, the text uses case studies and socio-political analysis to develop a frame of representation which shows how a move from intolerance to tolerance to partial recognition of homosexuality has impacted upon the acceptability of homosexuality in 'heterosexual public space', with this then affecting the representation of gay politicians in the press. What was private has now become public, pointing to the fact that gay politicians have mediated personas; their private lives, and sexualities, are lived in/presented through the media.

Sex, Lies and Politics reveals insights about representation and the construction of identity through its focus on sexuality, politicians and the media, with the changing line between the private and public an essential concept. Sensationalism and scandal are key issues in the text, with the press coverage of politicians caught up in gay scandals, as well as gay politicians, explored.

The representation of gay politicians in the UK press has so far been underrepresented in media and political studies. Lack of discussion is strange, considering that gay politicians have been at the forefront of the media's attention over the last fifty years. Sex, Lies and Politics provides a much needed contribution to political, media and social history.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-456-7
Hardback Price: £45.00 / $65.00
Release Date: March 2012
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-604-2
Paperback Price: £19.95 / $34.95
Release Date: April 2013
Page Extent / Format: 224 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes




1. The Press, the Personal and News Values
2. Issues of Public and Private
3. Unifying Key Themes

4. Histories of Homosexuality: Definition and Discrimination
5. Private Lives, Public Consequences: Representation Pre-1980
6. Immoral Sexuality, Moralistic Press Coverage: Representation 1980–1990

7. Histories of Homosexuality: the (Slow) Advancement of Gay Equality
8. Scurrilous Politicians, Scandalous Stories: Representation 1990–1997
9. Public Life, Public Pressures: Representation Post-1997



A pioneering in-depth academic appraisal.
Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of Stonewall

Built on original research and offering clear, thoughtful analysis, Donna Smith's new book tells a compelling story of sexual identity, social change, and media representation in the UK that is both rich and timely.
Mike Saward, Professor of Politics, Open University

Donna Smith has written an important and engaging original contribution to scholarship on the theory and practice of sexual politics. The concept she develops of a 'frame of representation' both advances her argument and provides other scholars in Politics, Social History, and Media Studies with an important conceptual tool to take forward. Her analysis of the shifting boundary between public and private in press coverage of gay politicians in the UK House of Commons in historical perspective, and the shift in normative judgments which has accompanied it, redresses the gap in academic study of this area.
Dr Raia Prokhovnik, Reader in Politics, Open University

Press attitudes to sexuality and gay politicians have guided much recent political communications strategy; where others have flitted past, at last we have a sustained analysis. Donna Smith's book is rich with insight and possibility, and deserves a wide readership.
Dr Michael Higgins, Senior Lecturer in Journalism, University of Strathclyde

In her 2012 study, Sex, Lies and Politics: Gay Politicians and [in] the Press, Donna Smith investigates the way in which the newspaper press in Britain has shifted its presentation of gay politicians. She successfully demonstrates that there has been a steady move away from the intolerance and ridicule that dominated coverage in the decades up to the 1980s toward a partial acceptance of diverse sexualities in the 1990s, with a marked decrease in the amount of sensationalism and scandal mongering in the late 1990s and afterward.
Chet DeFonso, Journal of British Studies, Volume 52, Issue 03, July 2013

Donna Smith presents a narrative which is broadly progressive, arguing that the representation and acceptability of homosexuality in public life increased over the period, but also seeks to portray the limits which were put on that acceptance.… Sex, Lies and Politics highlights many important issues and is to be recommended to specialists…
Charles Smith, Contemporary British History, Volume 27, Issue 03, July 2013

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