Mark Oaten on the scandal that ended his political career

by Stephen Tall on September 15, 2009

Today’s Independent carries an extensive excerpt from Lib Dem MP Mark Oaten’s soon-to-be-published autobiographical book, Screwing Up, published next week – you can order it from Amazon using this link (and earn the party some commission). Here’s the book blurb:

Mark Oaten is a politician of nearly 13 years standing, having famously won the seat of Winchester in 1997 with a majority of only two, though a by-election later returned him with a majority of 20,000. More famously, he hit the headlines in January 2006 when, shortly after announcing his withdrawal from the race to succeed Charles Kennedy as leader of the Lib Dems, Oaten was caught up in the biggest political scandal of the year as the News of the World published the story of his relations with a rent boy. His world collapsed. This is the story of a man obsessed by retaining his youth, fearful of turning 40 and feeling a complete failure. It s the story of coping with media scandal, and of how he and his wife Belinda managed to save their marriage, as well as his own recent decision to leave politics for the unknown. Whilst offering a fascinating insight into the working life of a constituency MP, Screwing Up is not a political memoir but the deeply touching and human story of a man at his wits end, trying to cope with the onset of middle age.

And here’s an excerpt from the excerpt:

… the real question about all of this is not what I did but why. I wish there was a simple answer. My sexuality had never been something I ever had reason to question. As a teenager I was as keen as all my mates to get a girlfriend and quickly had a string of relationships. By the time I married Belinda in 1992 I had fallen head over heels in love with her and our relationship was wonderful.

So how did the need to experiment with my sexuality start? In months of counselling after the affair became public I spent hours going through the reasons. I think there are a number of complex factors at work. Seeing this 23-year-old man was obviously an enormous personal risk. I used my own phone to call him and made no attempt to hide the number. I turned up in my work clothes, on one occasion direct from a television studio.

Yet I had no real concept of the risk I was taking. I didn’t think for a moment that he would have a clue who I was. I just assumed that he was unlikely to watch Newsnight and that I wasn’t a well-known public figure. (If I’d been thinking rationally I would have realised that by 2004 my face was in the national news most weeks.) …

I don’t think that many people can be 100 per cent gay or 100 per cent heterosexual. I am certainly not, and at times in their lives some people experiment along the spectrum. … Does that mean I am gay? No, but I completely at ease with those that are. … There is something interesting about the world they live in: it feels very free, without responsibility. Perhaps above all – and here lies a big clue in my case – there is a youthfulness about it. It is in total contrast to the life of the fortysomething Hampshire dad, married with two children, who is getting fat and losing his looks. I think I am driven by an attempt to escape middle age and recapture my youth.