It seems that the Liberal Democrats can't go a week without a scandal. First, there were the original revelations about Charles Kennedy's drinking (quelle surprise?!) Then there was the admission of the party's Leader in the House of Lords, Lord McNally, that he too has battled with a drink problem.
Now Mark Oaten steps into the frame, with the News of the World uncovering his visits to a male prostitute over a six-month period in 2004. On one occasion, Mr. Oaten apparently engaged in a sex act with two male prostitutes that was "too disgusting to describe."
The thing that Londonist finds most amazing about the whole affair (pun intended, as Oaten is married with two young daughters) is that Oaten put himself into the limelight by throwing his hat into the ring for the party leadership. Did he honestly believe that the press would not get hold of the story? The fact that Mr. Oaten felt that he could keep this covered up whilst running for leader of a major political party seems absurd, and highlights either his naïvety or his arrogance.
Mr. Oaten and his family have gone into hiding since the news broke last weekend, after resigning as the Lib Dems' Home Affairs spokesman, and has apparently met with his constituency chairman (Oh, to be a fly on the wall in THAT room!) His constituency executive are now to make a decision on his future. Leadership hopeful Simon Hughes has rallied to Oaten's side, promising to give him a front bench post if he (Hughes) wins the leadership election. However, whether he is fit to serve on the front bench is debateable, and indeed, whether his constituency executive will deem him so is still in the balance.
Some members of the party have decided to jump the Good Ship Liberal Democrat early. High profile parliamentary candidate for Suffolk, West Adrian Graves decided that the HMS Conservative, captained by Captain Cameron, is being blown by a favourable wind towards the next general election, and has, as a result, climbed aboard. It is also rumoured that three Lib Dem M.P.'s are venturing out onto the gangplank in the direction of the Good Ship Tory.
So what of the public's view of the party? Apparently it has dropped by 8 points, to a grand total of 15 points. After the record general election result of last May, Londonist feels that the party would have been better off sticking with good old Charlie Kennedy. Sure, he was incapable of doing much most of the time. Sure, he had to be carried onto a train back to London after last year's spring conference. Sure, he didn't turn up to meetings. However, the advantage of his drunkenness is this - it prevented him from making too many gaffes in public. Something that both Sir Menzies Campbell and Mark Oaten have now done.
The other two leadership hopefuls, Simon Hughes and Chris Huhne are as yet spotless, but the way the Lib Dems are going, it is only a matter of time until they too, are the centre of a scandal. The increasing severity of these scandals does not bode well for them.. We will probably find out soon that it was Hughes who killed the whale, and that Huhne is a terrorist. Londonist awaits news of further scandals with baited breath.