On the whole I am not an admirer of the right wing of the Liberal Party and so I have never had much time for Mark Oaten, though he seemed to me to do a good job giving grief to the Labour Government on its indefensible proposals to detain suspected terrorists without trial. 

As we all know, Mr Oaten has been forced to withdraw from his position as the Home Affairs spokesperson for the Liberals because of revelations by a Sunday newspaper about his private life.  My thoughts on this are not terribly original, but I should like nonetheless to stand up and be counted:

  • There is precisely no public interest in Mr Oaten’s relationships.  I do not care who he does or does not have any kind of sex with.  It is shameful that the News of the World should publish it, and even more shameful that anybody should buy such a newspaper and so reward them for having done so. 
  • It is ridiculous to describe a 23 year-old man as a "rent boy". The term is presumably intended to link homosexuality to child abuse, and it is outrageous that it has been used in this case.
  • The bloggers who claim to have contributed to making this story public should be ashamed of themselves.  (Actually, as far as I can see the NoW ran a different story than the one that the bloggers put into their podcast, so it seems as if the claim is self aggrandisement).  We bloggers should be standing up to the mainstream media, not joining it in the gutter. (Doctorvee and Chicken Yoghurt are both right on this.)
  • The suggestion that Mr Oaten should not stand as a candidate for Parliament at the next election is absurd.  On the contrary: whoever wins the leadership of the Liberal Party should defy the newspapers and restore Mr Oaten as a Front Bench spokesperson.  They are supposed to be liberals, for chrissake.  I hope the public would rather admire a party that simply ignored irrelevant and prurient interest in his private life.

Owen Barder

Owen is CEO of Precision Agriculture for Development. He has worked in the office of the UK Prime Minister, the British Treasury, the Department for International Development; and at the Center for Global Development.


MatGB · January 24, 2006 at 4:55 pm

Not sure TBH on a return to the front bench; I like the LibDems because they seem more honest and less prone to spin; policies matter, focus groups are to be persuaded, not asked. But Oaten set up publicity shots of himself with his family as a good family man, and also awhileback condemned a judge for similar (can’t remember the details).  Dislike hypocrites, regardless of colour.  Let him sort his life out, then maybe at some point let him back in, but not soon.  Although I doubt the media would let him get away with a poly/open relationship, even if his wife did…

Owen replies: I don’t see the need to "let him sort his life out".  What he does or does not do in his life is his business. Sod the media – it is about time that the politicians just braved it out.  The public, and then the media, would soon forget why they ever cared about politicians’ sex lives. 

luis enrique · January 25, 2006 at 12:06 am

Well OK, but the day they catch George W Bush having sex with an airhostess, I’m going to buy that paper. And I wonder how many of those rushing to defend Oaten would do the same for Dubya.

Owen · January 25, 2006 at 5:27 am

Luis – Well I don’t think that there was any public interest in Bill Clinton’s relationship with Ms Lewinsky, though he stupidly created one by perjuring himself.  (He should have just said "mind your own business").  The one case that would make me hesitate is if a politician is strongly identified with a political campaign about how individuals should behave, who then behaves differently himself or herself.  I don’t think George Bush spends much time telling other people not to have sex with air hostesses, however, so I don’t think we should care if he does.  

Unity · January 25, 2006 at 6:58 am

Owen:  MatGB raises the one critical point in this.

Whatever else Oaten did or didn’t do the one thing he did was fail the hypocrisy test by playing on the ‘good family man’ image to bolster his leadership campaign, which is why he was right to step down from the Lib Dem front bench. As far as his future as an MP goes, this shouldn’t affect him – after all its not as if he has a poor voting record on sexuality/equality issues, which would mark him out as a total hypocrite, as certainly some heavily closeted – and largely Tory MPs – have had in the past.

But then politics is rough old game and he will certainly be aware that Tories are likely to go for him pretty directly at the next general election in the hope that a little bigotry might turn his Winchester seat into a winnable target. What is unclear – and none of our business really – is how all this will impact on his family and through them on him.If they can get through this – which is by no means certain – he may well not wish to reopen current wounds by taking on a rough election campaign where this whole incident is bound, one way or another, to be brought into it.

Owen replies: I don’t agree that Mr Oaten’s portrayal of himself as a "good family man" (and he may well be a good family man, notwithstanding his sexual activities) entitles us to take a prurient interest in his sex life.  This seems to me a blanket excuse for us to be interested in his private life.  As I said earlier, it would be a little different if he were associated with a strong political campaign about sexual values; but he isn’t.

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