Mark Oaten, who was at one point a contender for the position of leader of the Liberal Democrats, quit the front bench last night over allegations of his involvement with male prostitutes during the last six months. The announcement came after reporters from the tabloid News of the World confronted Oaten at his house with evidence of this area of his private life.
Assuming these allegations are true (I rarely automatically believe everything I read in the papers, especially not sensationalist rags like the News of the World), it is a major blow to the Liberal Democrats, and to Oaten personally. With Charles Kennedy recently admitting to having a drinking problem and the subsequent leadership contest that came about as a result of that announcement, the Lib Dems could only hope for a quick and untainted contest (or preferably the immediate appointment of one candidate without needing an election). Now they face not only the trials and tribulations of a leadership election, but also damaging stories about two of their most prominent members appearing in the national press.
What interests me most about this story though is that with the potential for defections as MPs attempt to distance themselves from the embarrassments surrounding the party, I think this is the best time for the Conservatives to make a serious return to the UK political scene. With a new leader who boasts a reasonable amount of clout and charisma without being seen as nasty, evil or a member of the Old Guard (Cameron wasn’t an MP when Thatcher was in power, which I suspect helps him to shake off the old traditions), the Tories have an excellent opportunity to steal some of the ground that the Lib Dems have taken in previous elections, and possibly even some of their MPs as well. It will certainly be intreresting to see how this all pans out in the days and weeks to come.