Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mark Oaten's sex life was the most remarkable thing about him

I don't want to keep attacking Mark Oaten, but a myth about him is in danger of developing. It is fuelled both by Oaten himself and by his supporter Mark Littlewood.

Let us be clear. Mark Oaten was not a dangerous, exciting politician brought down by a straitlaced press and public opinion. He was probably overpromoted when he was made Lib Dem shadow home secretary and his performance while in the rule was neither particularly impressive nor particularly liberal.

As evidence I refer you to a post of mine from a couple of years ago. It reminds us that though Oaten was happy to talk about abolishing prisons after he had left office, while he was in the post he presented himself as the apostle of "tough liberalism".

An earlier posting of mine may help too. I do hope Mark and the other libertarians of Liberal Vision will agree there is no simple trade off between security and liberty.

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Mark Littlewood said...

I wouldn't want to speak for all of Liberal Vision, but I'd be surprised if any LV supporters believe there's a liberty-security trade-off.

Socialists and conservatives keep banging on about getting the "balance" right - by which they always mean reducing liberty.

I think there's actually a positive, rather than negative, correlation between liberty and security. In most circumstances, freedom breeds security. And similarly, attacks on freedom tend to lead to more violence, carnage and death, not less.

On the Mark Oaten issue, I wasn't heralding him as a great liberal statesman. I actually felt he was far too conservative as LD Home Affairs spokesman. But my point about destroying people for these sort of personal transgressions stands.

If you wanted Oaten sacked because he was a rubbish spokesman, that's one thing. Obliterating him because of his sexual dalliances is another.

Jonathan Calder said...


I am glad we agree there is no trade off between liberty and security.

You wrote:

"If we want to stop the ghastly production line of tedious, loyalist, speak-your-pager automatons that litter the green benches (particularly on the Labour side), we need to be more forgiving of politicians that behave outside society’ statistical norms."

I suppose my point is that it is perfectly possible for an MP to have an unconventional sex life and mundane political views.

Mark Littlewood said...

"I suppose my point is that it is perfectly possible for an MP to have an unconventional sex life and mundane political views."

I'm sure that's right. And no doubt, one with whacky conventional views could no doubt have a very mundane sex life!

However, I wonder if there is some sort of correlation between unconventional behaviour and unconventional views. Not a rule by any means, but possibly a correlation.

A Parliament of MPs who are all heterosexual married white Protestant men with 2 children, a Volvo and an Oxbridge degree COULD contain a very wide variety of differing political opinions, but is probably less likely to do so than one in which a much wider range of backgrounds and lifestyles are represented.

Iain Sharpe said...

Actually I think Mark Oaten was at least trying to make a positive contribution towards putting together a more consistent Liberal approach towards criminal justice. For years the party had combined impeccably Liberal policies as agreed at conference, while campaigning on ultra-tough sounding ‘More police now’ rhetoric in by-election leaflets and the like. He seemed to be attempting to find ways of immunising us against the ‘soft on crime’ jibes (which were a real problem in the target seat campaign I was working on in 2005) while staying true to our Liberal principles.
Mark’s problem, however, was that he lacked the intellectual confidence (and possibly ability) to see his project through. He always appeared too keen to compromise with the other parties on security issues and to be triangulating rather than standing up for a principle. He had also made enough enemies among radical activists that there were many who merely reacted against the phrase ‘tough liberalism’ without engaging with what he was trying to do.
It’s hard not to be irritated by the timing of the publication of his memoirs. In his shoes I would want to shut up for a while, rather than go through this constant public revisiting of his embarrassment – surely he could find a more dignified way of making a few bob. But then, during his years as a ‘rising star’ he attracted an almost unprecedented amount of bile from some quarters of the party – not least the liberator collective – and his loudest critics over the memoirs will be those to whom he owes absolutely no debts of goodwill.