Comment: If voters let the Weiner sex scandal pass, they will have lost their minds

Politicians' careers can sometimes escape the odd affair. But if Anthony Weiner gets away with his latest sex scandal and becomes New York's next mayor, the world will truly have gone mad.

A man takes pictures of his penis and sends them to girls who are not his wife. He is caught, resigns from Congress, and then engages in another online liaison under the nickname 'Carlos Danger'. And then asks the people of New York to vote him in as their new mayor. Does Weiner really think he can wriggle out of this one?

It is so bizarre it is almost funny. As political sex scandals go, the Weiner misadventures are inexplicably audacious. His habit of sending pictures of himself to young women over Twitter had already forced him out of office once. To then subsequently repeat the behaviour seems to take the biscuit. It would be lesson number one at Political School, were it not for the fact this sort of thing is quite painfully obviously not a good idea.

"I've apologised to my wife Huma and I'm grateful she has worked through these issues and I have her forgiveness," he declared at one of the most awkward press conferences known to man. It's hard not to have sympathy for the humiliated spouse. "I love him, I have forgiven him, I believe him and as we have said from the beginning, we are moving forward," she declared. She may be moving on, but her husband's actions suggest he is not.

The decision by Weiner not to throw in the towel is, perhaps, the biggest test yet of the principle that you can escape from these sorts of predicaments. New Yorkers are being asked to give him a "second chance", on the basis that "I hope they realise that in many ways what happened today was something that frankly had happened before". The problem is he keeps on doing it. And while he may be the frontrunner in the race to succeed Michael Bloomberg, his lead is just three points.

Surely he can't get away with this? We live in a liberal society – and those who dwell in the Big Apple certainly do. But surely, they will ask themselves, a line has been crossed when they elect a man who feels the most appropriate course of action when engaging with females who are not his wife is to send them pictures of his genitals? Come on, New York! Pull yourself together!

At first glance, Britain has little to compete with the States. The thought of John Major and Edwina Currie engaged in unspeakable bedroom activities is about a million miles away from the Hollywood-glamourised affairs we see portrayed by perfectly-formed actors in US political dramas. Britain's reply? Just lots of ugly middle-aged types bumping and grinding. It's enough to make one reach for the smelling salts.

This is not to say that the British political history of the last 50 years is not littered with sex. It's just not very nice sex. John Prescott, David Blunkett, David Mellor, Robin Cook: none of these men are Adonises but all have somehow managed to lure women into their beds. It's got something to do with their surprisingly high levels of erotic capital, according to Dr Catherine Hakim. Her book on the subject explains there's a lot more to sex appeal than good looks: charm and sociability are just as important. The ability to be charismatic also happens to be very handy characteristic if you want to be a successful politician, too.

This is an odd period for sex scandals. The 50th anniversary of the Profumo scandal, the biggest and best of them all, passed on June 5th 2013, when sex parties and espionage brushed up against the establishment, high society and a Cabinet minister to create a cocktail of suicide, infidelity and political dynamite which obsessed Britain for six months.

Can politicians get away with it? More can these days, that's for sure. An extra-marital affair is nowhere near as damaging these days as it was when Profumo first spotted Christine Keeler emerging naked from a swimming pool. Not that it's necessarily the done thing, of course. In 2004 Boris Johnson rejected reports that he had an affair with Petronella Wyatt as an "inverted pyramid of piffle". No such retort was forthcoming with regard to one of his other affairs, with art consultant Helen Macintyre. You do not hear Boris' activities getting in the way of his plans to be prime minister, do you?

Weiner's astonishing escapades may be an inappropriate picture too far, though. A man who claims he is not clear whether an image is one of his own meat and two veg deserves widespread ridicule. If that ridicule is not enough to ensure he is never voted into public office again, something has gone very wrong with the world.

This is a world, though, that contains the likes of Silvio 'bunga bunga' Berlusconi. It is a world where Chris Huhne was ousted from government for lying about his speeding points, not for having had an affair. It is a world where US president Bill Clinton was able to do things with cigars for which they were not originally designed and, somehow, escape an impeachment process.

If Weiner is going to get away with something like this, he has chosen a good country to try to in. Americans have a long history of eye-wateringly audacious scandals. Larry Craig, a Republican senator, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after he was arrested in a Minneapolis men's room. Mark Foley, a Republican Congressman, resigned after being accused of sending sexually explicit emails to underage male congressional pages. The Republican South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond, it was revealed in 2003, had fathered a child with a 15-year-old African-American employed by his family as far back as 1925. In this he was following a strong tradition. National hero Thomas Jefferson allegedly fathered the children of his slave, Sally Hemings. A 1998 DNA study suggested the claims were correct.

As we gape astounded across the Atlantic, we shouldn't forget it's not the US which has a monopoly on this sort of thing. Most of the scandals in this article are long forgotten, but there is one, potentially even more devastating, which is overshadowing Westminster right now.

Last month the Mail on Sunday reported a 'secret love scandal' between two married middle-aged figures which left David Cameron "stunned" when he heard about it. This explosive secret is known by most newsrooms in the country, but can't be reported on because of legal restrictions. If revealed, some say it could even bring down the government.

To have this hanging over our heads as the silly season drags on this summer is going to leave many UK political journalists very restless indeed. Perhaps the most enticing sex scandal of all, they'll be discovering this summer, is the one yet to come.

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