Oaten apologises, and asks to stay on

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Mark Oaten, the disgraced Liberal Democrat MP, will face voters in his Winchester constituency today for the first time since a sex scandal ended his career as a front-bench politician.

Mr Oaten said he wants to stay an MP, and he is hoping to repair his 13-year marriage. He and his wife, Belinda, have two daughters, aged six and nine. He admitted he had "let down" his constituents, and said: "There's one person to blame, and that's me."

He resigned from his post as home affairs spokesman and disappeared from public view nearly two weeks ago, after the News of the World printed details of his six-month liaison with a 23-year-old male prostitute.

Days earlier, he had dropped out of the contest for the party leadership, after failing to attract support from fellow MPs.

At the launch of his campaign, he invited cameras into his home to film him with his wife. He defended that decision yesterday, saying Belinda and their two daughters "are very much part of my life".

He told his local newspaper, the Hampshire Chronicle: "The priority in the next week is my family and really to focus very much on them and also Winchester, my constituency. In a sense, I need to regain the confidence of my constituents who may feel let down.

"So the priority over the next six months is to work hard in the constituency again. I want to carry on doing the job I'm doing, but beyond the next year or two, that's a long way away. If people want me to, then I want to carry on working for them."

He made his first reappearance in the Commons on Tuesday, when he voted against disputed clauses in the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. His vote helped give rebels a majority of one over the Government. Today he will hold his first constituency surgery since the scandal broke.

Mr Oaten said he was touched by the number of messages of support he had received from party members, including so many text messages that his mobile telephone has had to be charged every day. He also revealed that he has spoken by telephone to Simon Hughes, the other prominent Liberal Democrat whose private life has had extended media exposure in the past two weeks. He praised Mr Hughes as a civil rights campaigner.

He added: "I don't feel any bitterness or anger towards the media in the sense that I made a mistake and I'm not blaming anybody else. There's one person to blame, and that's me.

"I understand people might feel let down and feel shocked about what they've read. I'm very sorry for the things I've done wrong. I just want to apologise to my constituents for those things as well."