Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thompson have interviewed Mark Oaten about his new book, which my company has published, in today's Times. Read it HERE. Here's an extract...
When Mark first talked to me about publishing his story I was in two minds. On the one hand I felt it would be an interesting story to tell, but on the other I was determined not to push him into areas he didn't want to go. In the end he has produced a highly readable, very personal book about what life is really like in Westminster with graphic descriptions of the kind of pressures experienced by politicians of all parties. Neither of us pretend that it is a great work of literature. Mark writes as he speaks. It's a very conversational book, but also quite an emotional one. If you want a book full of lurid detail you will be disappointed. That was never the intention. But if you want to read a warts and all story of a politician living on the edge, in danger of falling into a chasm of depression but coming out the other side, you'll enjoy it.
Even before the scandal broke, when he was the frontbench home affairs spokesman, he was regularly taking antidepressants. He thinks at least a fifth of MPs have mental problems, although he says: “Round here it is a taboo subject. Very few will admit to not coping with the stress. You can’t be vulnerable or weak if you are waiting for the next promotion.”
There is, he says, “something in the DNA of politicians which makes them vulnerable to mood swings and being depressed. They are likely to be obsessive, risk-taking and slightly depressive”.
His explanation is that certain character flaws make people want to stand for Parliament. “My risk-taking makes me a good politician and a bad one. But the risk element is only one side. It is even more common for MPs to need to be loved. Ego and needing to be liked are dangerous traits.”
Many MPs are, he believes, damaged souls. “You seek your parents’ approval, then your family’s, then the party’s and then the voters’. I see politicians in their early thirties doing exactly what I was doing — running around the television studios, checking their BlackBerries, taking every opportunity. I want to say, ‘Calm down, go home to your family’. I wish someone had said that to me.”
The pressure is, in his view, made worse by the difficulty in making real friendships at Westminster. “There is a bonding between MPs, but it can’t be genuine — you are always ultimately competing. You are rivals.” He hopes that his memoirs will serve as a warning to other politicians. “I would like them to learn from someone who screwed it up and got it wrong.”
Mr Oaten’s downfall was spectacular. When he saw two journalists outside his front door one morning in January 2006 he had no idea that they had discovered his liaisons with male prostitutes. After speaking to them he had to go inside and tell his wife everything while their two young daughters carried on having breakfast in the next room. Even now he cannot quite explain it to himself, let alone to her.
“Everyone is desperate for an easy answer about why I went to an escort. I had doubts about my sexuality, I wanted to experiment, I was stressed out, feeling low about getting older. The press kept talking about the fact I was losing my hair. I was feeling out of love with myself.”
The rent boy was 23. “I wanted to recapture my youth and be near a young person — it was important that he was younger. I had a belly appearing and bags under my eyes. I wanted to experiment with younger people. It is not uncommon for 40-year-olds to want to experiment sexually.”
He found the number at the back of a magazine. “It was very late at night when I went to his flat, there was an element of risk-taking. I knew it was dangerous, there was an adrenalin element.”
Over the next six months he visited regularly. The News of the World said that he enjoyed three-in-a-bed “romps” and “humiliation”. “We never actually had intercourse. We talked, had a conversation about where he lived, but I was only there for about half an hour each time. We didn’t watch TV or relax together. He had a flatmate — that was the other one. He didn’t become a friend. I don’t even know his real name.”
There were lurid allegations made, which he says are untrue. “There were the most graphic descriptions on websites about what had happened, which were wrong but I couldn’t sue. It would drag everything up.” It was almost a relief to him when the story came out. “I could get counselling, talk to Belinda and try to feel more comfortable about who I am.”
Buy the book HERE.