Thursday, January 12, 2006

Mark Oaten as I knew him

I have crossed swords with James Graham on quaequam blog about my old Watford buddy Mark Oaten, who I see is often on the receiving end of, ahem, 'sustained and aggressive' criticism from a small but noisy section of the party.

Mark, however, seems untroubled by it all and among my acquaintances some people who I would not have down as Oatenistas are contemplating supporting him. But there is a way to go. I have a lot of time for Mark, but was never an uncritical admirer, either when he was my group leader in Watford or since he has gone on to greater things.

To read some Lib Dems writing about him you would get the impression he was in favour of hanging or had a portrait of Enoch Powell on his wall. I suspect there are two reasons for this. First, Mark is insufficiently deferential to liberal pieties (I can hardly imagine him enjoying the liberator songbook) and secondly he doesn’t trouble to disguise his personal ambition.

But he is also ambitious for the party, which is or ought to be a good thing. I suspect some Lib Dems like their MPs as quirky ‘characters’ content to champion their constituencies, rather than single-minded aspirants to cabinet office.

In my experience Mark is a good Liberal with an occasional tendency towards populism and a Paddy-like weakness for new ideas. (Neither of which of course are great sins.) But when a few years ago research was done on the way Lib Dem MPs voted on liberatarian vs authoritarian issues in parliament, Mark (and Lembit) were the most consistently liberal (or permissive). You would think this was something that radical liberals would approve of..

Likewise, for many years the Lib Dems could have been accused of hiding impeccably liberal crime policies behind relentless campaigning for ‘more police’. Mark has at least tried to guide us towards policies that are liberal but don’t make us seem irresponsible. He has tried to widen the scope of the campaign against ID cards with some success. Although clearly he has sought out the home affairs brief, it is still a pretty tough job and one he has made a good fist of.

Even where I have disagreed with him – e.g. over the licensing act – I am surprised that he gets opprobrium that others deserve more. Don Foster et al were coming out with the line of scrapping the legislation until binge drinking was brought under control.

As I said, the bile from the blogosphere doesn’t seem to damage the Oaten camp. For those Lib Dems who enjoy knocking lumps out of their party’s home affairs spokesman for sounding too tough, when the other two parties attack him for being too soft, that is the sort of thing they enjoy.


Leah & Robin Darbyshire said...

We love you! You should see our blog, we've been trying to argue the same thing but just getting lots of abuse for it. Thanks for helping. Mark was at his brilliant best on Question Time tonight. Robin used to work for him for 4 years and we both think he is a lovely man and I love the way he has supported Charles in all this. I totally agree with him on that and he has accurately gauged public opinion on Charles too. He will get us loads of media coverage if elected from his excellent media skills. I'm not uncritical either as a social justice proponent but have always been impressed with Mark in person, as Robin's boss and friend and on Question Time tonight - we were applauding very loudly to everything he said. We totally agree also with his modernising platform though this does not make us in any way right wing. Thanks for defending him as we were feeling like the only ones who support him and getting very exhausted by the nasty attacks we were receiving back at him and as a result, us. Say 'hi' to Mark for us and tell him we'll sign his ordinary members' nomination papers if he likes x 2 signatures.

James said...

On the licensing act, I attacked Don Foster long before I attacked Mark Oaten.

I agree that the two parliamentary careers appear to be following a similar trajectory however.

Peter Pigeon said...

I think ours is a fair summary. I don´t think I am likely to vote for MO, but he gets more stick than he should.

Angus J Huck said...

What really does concern me about Mark Oaten is the claim made by the "Daily Mail" that he is in favour of forcing people to join the Army.

Is this actually true? If it is, I will resign from the Party if he becomes leader.

Clearly, a small number of people regard Mark as a saviour figure, though I find it difficult to see why.

The same was true of Dr David Owen, whose splinter group Mark briefly joined.