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Monday, January 23, 2006 

Mark Oaten: You stupid boy.

Mark Oaten was an excellent Home Affairs spokesman for the Lib Dems. He spoke out for many of us when along with his party he opposed ID cards, further "anti-terrorist" legislation and the imposition of the heavily abused anti-social behaviour orders. He was perhaps a little too much like Icarus when he tried to run for Lib Dem leader, as it soon became apparent that he did not have the support of the parliamentary party, although his stance and performance on the Lib Dem front bench had won him many admirers among the grassroots and around the country. It's all such a shame that such a promising MP has had his career finished thanks in part to his own stupidity and to the gutter journalism of the News of the Screws.

Mark Oaten did not do anything that countless men and yes, women, do on a regular basis. While we obviously don't know what was going through his head and whether he is actually gay or not or just curious, he surely should have known better than to go through the Gaydar website in finding a partner. Chris Bryant, a New Labour loyalist to the extent that he'd probably take a bullet for Blair, was himself under the spotlight when a picture of him in just his underpants was found on that website. That should have been enough to warn Oaten off his urges, but obviously not. Whether he was having marital problems or not, such a revelation, especially one forced by a tabloid newspaper of the lowest calibre, will have caused huge pain to his family. What they didn't need was such a vile frontpage from the Daily Mail today, a typical piece of low blow journalism from the paper aimed at women but written by women-haters.

The fact that Oaten's infidelity was with both a prostitute and a man makes it even more of a scandal, even in these times when taboos are thankfully being broken and when really such details shouldn't make any difference. It comes as a surprise that a sex scandal has once again effectively ended a politician's career, especially after the twin sex-scandals of the Spectator, neither of which directly cost David Blunkett or Boris Johnson their jobs. While it still isn't on the level of
Alan Clark's infamous coven, in which he had his way with both the mother and her two daughters (again exposed by the News of the Screws) it still is a pretty high ranking but puerile expose.

Which brings us to the main questions. Does the whole thing really matter, is such a story in the public interest, and does it really sell papers? The answer to the first two questions is no. The answer to the third sadly appears to be yes. While no doubt many of the News of the Screws readers would have had little idea of who Mark Oaten is, I would say it's likely that it would have added to yesterday's circulation thanks to its prior publicity. When David Blunkett's affair was first exposed, the Guardian along with some of the other serious papers at first published no details of it at all, citing that it was not in the public interest. Once it became clear that Blunkett's judgment, conduct and work were being undermined by the affair and its subsequent break-up, it did become a public interest story. That seems a pretty good measure of when a story does actually become newsworthy. Despite what some other blogs and newspapers have said, Oaten was not being hypocritical on prostitution, nor was he really being dishonest by starting his leadership campaign by sitting down with his family. How many other politicians have used the same tactic regardless? David Cameron emphasised his family and especially his wife, despite his obvious previous experience with drugs, which some thought questioned his morals.

Sadly then, the News of the Screws has claimed another scalp, another scoop, and another politician's life most likely lays in ruins. While I feel a lot of sympathy for him, to quote a certain captain's catchphrase, "you stupid boy!".

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