Mark Oaten, once Lib Dem ris­ing star, ‘com­fort­able be­ing gay’

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Peter Walker

Mark Oaten, the one-time Lib­eral Demo­crat ris­ing star who left pol­i­tics 13 years ago after it emerged that he had been reg­u­larly pay­ing male sex work­ers while mar­ried, has now gone pub­lic with his sex­u­al­ity and said he is liv­ing with an­other man.

The for­mer Lib Dem home af­fairs spokesman and MP for Winch­ester, who was stand­ing to be­come the party’s leader un­til just be­fore the rev­e­la­tions in 2006, said it had taken him un­til now to speak out about be­ing gay.

“I’m gay now, and I’m com­fort­able with be­ing gay and I’m clear about my sex­u­al­ity,” he told BBC Ra­dio 5 Live.

“I haven’t ac­tu­ally said it un­til now in an in­ter­view. It’s some­thing which is dif­fi­cult for me to say. It still feels dif­fi­cult for me to say, but in­creas­ingly I’m com­fort­able and happy about that, and feel in a com­fort­able place to say that to you to­day.

“But it’s been a long jour­ney to get me to that point. I clearly had sex­ual doubts ear­lier on in my life, but I was very, very hap­pily mar­ried and re­ally, re­ally en­joyed be­ing a dad and mar­ried as well.”

Oaten was mar­ried with two daugh­ters when the News of the World pub­lished de­tails about his six-month re­la­tion­ship with a male sex worker, and how he had paid to take part in group sex ses­sions.

The for­mer PR con­sul­tant was only 33 when he be­came an MP in 1997, and made his name as the voice of so-called “tough lib­er­al­ism” in the home af­fairs brief, mov­ing the party to the right on im­mi­gra­tion and crime.

He stood to suc­ceed Charles Kennedy when the then-leader an­nounced in Jan­uary 2006 he was step­ping down due to al­co­holism, and was Kennedy’s choice for the post. Oaten dropped out of the race shortly be­fore the news­pa­per rev­e­la­tions.

He quit par­lia­ment in 2010, and stayed with his wife, Belinda. Oaten said his fam­ily had been sup­port­ive of his later change in life­style.

“It’s some­thing my friends have known about now, my girls know about, and my mum – those key peo­ple – but it’s only been in the last year, year and a half. I’ve got a part­ner; we live to­gether. I have a group of great gay friends. I can be who I am now. I just wish I’d done it ear­lier.”

Oaten said his use of sex work­ers had been in part a re­ac­tion to life in the “seedy, bul­ly­ing men’s club” of par­lia­ment.

He said: “You are in an en­vi­ron­ment where you can buy drink re­ally cheap, you are in an en­vi­ron­ment where you are away from home and your fam­ily, and you are in this kind of bub­ble where you are able to get away with any­thing you want.

“You are con­scious and aware of col­leagues hav­ing af­fairs.”

Oaten, who left the Lib Dems last year, said he felt Vince Ca­ble should step down as leader: “He’s failed and the party’s failed. I think Jo Swin­son is good and great. I think, frankly, Vince, it’s time for you to step down and let some­body new come through.”

Oaten’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer be­gan amid some drama – in 1997 he won Winch­ester from the Con­ser­va­tive in­cum­bent, Gerry Malone, by just two votes. Malone chal­lenged the re­sult in the courts and forced a by­elec­tion, which Oaten then won with a ma­jor­ity of 21,000.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: PA

Mark Oaten at the Lib­eral Democrats’ party con­fer­ence in 2004

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