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Monday, January 23, 2006

Steadying the nerves

I was rung by two journalists yesterday asking me to comment on the circumstances of Mark Oaten's resignation as Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson. I declined both invitations on the basis that I did not wish to comment on an MP's private life. The second journalist tried to widen the issue to one of whether the media should be indulging in this sort of salacious exposé. As interesting as this debate would be it is my view that it is essentially a circular one that would generate more heat than light and so I declined to comment on that issue either.

The comment piece in today's Guardian sums up why this very sad episode is essentially a personal one, no matter what contradictions may exist between what Mark Oaten did and the image he sought to portray. It is his tragedy, not the party's:

The exposures in the News of the World certainly tell us something about Mr Oaten and definitely reveal something about our society. What they do not tell us - in spite of the inevitable jokes and cruel comments that will now crackle through the political world - is anything meaningful about the Liberal Democrats.

For those of us who have been members of the party during earlier scandals the conclusion of the editorial strikes a particular resonance. It reminds us that our cause is greater than any one individual and his/her qualities and failings. It also provides a compelling argument for the whole party picking itself up, dusting itself down and getting on with the job of campaigning for the principles and values that make us distinctive:

Lib Dems have no alternative but to try to hold their nerve and hope things will improve. This is not just a natural instinct but also a sensible strategy. The Lib Dems are a much more resilient and rooted party than their opponents - including in the media - like to portray them. They are much more than a protest party. People have not joined and voted for the Lib Dems in growing numbers over the last 20 years because they are cross with Labour or want to teach the Tories the errors of their ways. They have done so because they have come to believe in liberal democratic traditions, values and policies, and because they think this is a party that can deliver. There will inevitably be more doubts in more minds than usual about that this morning, but the Liberal Democrats will still be needed and still matter long after Mr Oaten's humiliations are forgotten.
Home affairs spokesman who uses his family in his election campaigns and pays for sex with young men: why is this just a private matter and not an issue of hypocrisy, up for comment by the rest of us (and you).

If politicians kept their families out of their work and were honest with the voters, I'd agree with you. That doesn't really apply here, does it?

Do you read these forums:

I dont read those forums as I did not know they existed and nor do I intend to start. My view was that as Mark Oaten had resigned as Home Affairs Spokesperson it was now a matter for him to resolve his issues in private and it was not for me to judge him or to add to those problems by commenting on them. Hence, a private matter.
Would you take the same stance is Mark Oaten was a Labour or Tory MP? I probably think not.

Indeed…you were all too ready to comment on David Blunkett’s personal “tragedy” (in the words of Chris Holley) when he resigned back in November.
I look forward to you finding such a comment Martyn. My recollection is that Blunkett resigned as Home Secretary because he was accused of using his position to help his lover's nanny. That is within the realms of public interest and a substantially different issue to the lapse of judgement suffered by Mark Oaten in which the main consequences are personal.

If a Tory or Labour MP found themselves in exactly the same position as Mark Oaten I would take the same attitude, yes.
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