In the seven months since Mark Oaten was exposed by the News of the World, the MP for Winchester could hardly be accused of keeping a low profile. Could it be that the politician best known for visiting rent boys is planning a future on telly? Tony Grew examines the evidence.
The curious tale of Mark Oaten continues to fascinate people and, like a bad da Vinci-themed novel, we just can’t put it down until we get to the end.
While not wishing to rehash the scandal that rocked the LibDem leadership contest and ruined his political career, there are some aspects of it that are worth considering.
Especially as Oaten himself appears confident that up until he leaves Parliament and beyond, he will be called on more and more as a media pundit.
Last month, when he announced his decision not to contest his Winchester seat at the next election, Oaten stated a desire to concentrate on development issues.
But from the start, he has been sniffing out TV opportunities, not NGO gigs. One of the more curious aspects of Oaten is his sheer brass neck.
This is a man who simultaneously thought he was high profile enough to run for party leader yet low profile enough to make weekly visits to a rent boy.
A man who told the world that the reason he had been sleeping with said rent boy was a ‘mid-life crisis’ brought on by rapid hair loss.
Certainly a novel reason, you have to give him that. A lesser man might have admitted to bisexuality, but not Oaten. The B word is yet to pass his lips.
In fact, his long-suffering wife, Belinda, has said more on the topic of the actual once-a-week sex with an Eastern European male prostitute than he has.
Allegations that too much has been made of Oaten’s behaviour because it involved gay sex are wide of the mark.
If a leading Tory shadow cabinet member had been having an affair with an Eastern European prostitute, involving 3-in-a-bed romps, a fetish for football kit and alleged coprophilia, would the reaction have been less intense?
No. What Oaten did was truly shocking – probably the most significant political scandal since then-Cabinet minister Ron Davies’ 1998 ‘moment of madness’ on Clapham Common.
The comparison with Davies is apposite – he also had no sense of when to step down, and was adept at convincing himself he had a future in politics.
The inevitability of Oaten’s situation has become apparent to him. The LibDems lost control of Winchester council, in part due to their local MP’s shenanigans. He finally admitted that he would have to stand down at the next election.
A lesser man might have stood down immediately. But not our Mark. He now spins this climbdown as the opportunity he has been waiting for.
The media might also be guilty of encouraging him to think that his future lies with them. Since the fall from grace, Oaten has been asked onto Question Time.
He has been featured, over a series of weeks, getting back into shape on the Daily Politics. He was one of four parliamentarians in a special episode of University Challenge.
Hell, even More4 got in on the act – he was a contestant on their West Wing quiz special.
Throughout it all, the elephant in the living room was his sexuality. No-one asked the question – are you now bisexual?
In these modern times, where ‘too much information’ is a catch phrase we all understand, it seems bizarre that an MP known only for a gay affair refuses to make any comment on his own sexual identity. More a case of no information.
Perhaps he is that most benighted of creatures, the straight man who merely ‘has sex with other men.’ Oaten still has a curiosity factor. In a year he won’t.
In the current celebrity climate, he simply cannot imagine he will be able to sustain a C-list ‘celebrity’ status without speaking frankly about the affair and whether how he defines himself. And probably having to re-enact it for a tacky Channel 5 show, if he is lucky.
He certainly is no Michael Portillo. His political achievements are modest. Frontbench spokesman for a minor political party. Reasonably obscure constituency MP before that. He can bring no gravitas or insider knowledge to the table – basic qualifications for the politician-turned-commentator.
In fact pretty much the only thing he is qualified to talk about with any authority is the one thing he seems to be unwilling to discuss.
For this reason I hope that Oaten is sincere when he says he wants to get out of the limelight and concentrate on ‘real’ issues.
Because if he is secretly banking on a glittering career in the media, he will be as frustrated as he was on the front bench.