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Westminster sleaze: Drugs so common that MPs 'have been known to snort cocaine from desks'

18 May 2022, 18:45 | Updated: 18 May 2022, 20:32

Mark Oaten spoke to LBC's Andrew Marr
Mark Oaten spoke to LBC's Andrew Marr. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Will Taylor

Drugs are so commonplace in Westminster that MPs have been known to snort cocaine from their desks, a former politician has told LBC.

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Speaking exclusively on Tonight with Andrew Marr, ex-Lib Dem MP Mark Oaten said the toxic environment around Parliament means it is a "miracle" there aren't more scandals.

He said he has seen MPs take hard drugs, chat up public visitors hoping to watch Prime Minister's Questions and poor treatment of young researchers working in Parliament.

The culture of drinking, drug-taking, late night votes and long stays away from family in their constituencies is to blame, he believes.

His comments come after a Tory was arrested on suspicion for rape, and in recent months MPs have been convicted of sexual offences or caught watching porn in the House of Commons.

Mr Oaten, who himself left Parliament after a scandal in 2006, said: "I'm afraid drugs are commonplace. I mean, I used to know of MPs who were snorting coke off their office desks, I saw political editors of national newspapers snorting it off toilet seats.

"I saw widespread drug taking, I saw widespread treatment of researchers which was totally unacceptable.

"I saw MPs trying to chat up members of the public as they queue to get into Prime Minister's Question time in return for a free ticket.

"I'm afraid what I saw was pretty awful. And to my shame, I didn't call it out at the time, I would like to speak out about it now much more, because I think that this is just perpetuating and continuing.

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"And when we see all of these scandals taking place, it is in part because we're not changing that culture around Westminster."

Mark Oaten left Parliament after being caught liaising with a male sex worker.

He had been a rising star in the Liberal Democrats, and said he was once touted with bookmakers for a shot at the leadership of the party.

Scandal after scandal in Westminster has triggered questions over what is leading to bad behaviour.

A Tory MP was arrested on suspicion of rape and sexual assault offences and has been released on bail pending further enquiries by the Metropolitan Police.

He will not re-enter Parliament until the investigation is over.

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Tory Imran Ahmad Khan was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy and has resigned his Wakefield seat.

Neil Parish was caught watching porn in the House of Commons twice and resigned.

David Warburton was suspended by the Conservative party after cocaine and sexual harassment allegations were levied in the Sunday Times.

"I think that there are several reasons why the drinking takes place," Mr Oaten explained.

Watch Tonight with Andrew Marr exclusively on Global Player every Monday to Thursday from 6pm to 7pm.

Mark Oaten blasted the toxic culture at Westminster
Mark Oaten blasted the toxic culture at Westminster. Picture: LBC

"I mean, people are lonely. You go away from home. There's a clubbable atmosphere, they're often bored.

"Sometimes they're waiting hours for these votes to take place. And so they go into Strangers' [bar], they’re then mixing with journalists who often have an expenses account. 'Come on, Fred, come on, Jim, have a drink.'

"And of course that feeds gossip and stories, which is great for the newspapers. And you've also got lobbyists, charities, all of these professional organisations.

"Surprise, surprise, what do they do? They hold receptions every single night of the week, they're giving drink to Members of Parliament so they can influence them, influence them with drink, influence them with their particular policies.

"Now, look, I'm not making excuses. But there has to be a better way to function around our democracy. This is a toxic environment, and no one is changing it at the moment."

You can also listen to the podcast Tonight with Andrew Marr only on Global Player.

Mr Oaten also suggested reducing the working week in Westminster and allowing MPs to spend more time in their consistencies and with their families, looking into taking alcohol away from Parliament and ending late finishes.

But he warned it would be "delusional" to think party leaders getting together to make changes would help.

"They don't want to be the ones that go and tell their 200 or so MPs that you've got to be home at six o'clock, you can't drink on the premises," he said.

"And actually, the whips quite like the influence of keeping them there, the threat of having to stay till 10 o'clock on a three line vote.

"And the alcohol also plays a part in how you control those Members of Parliament as well."