For some reason the media have taken against Mark Oaten and are almost unanimous in believing he would come fourth in the LibDem leadership contest. It's odd, because very few LibDem politicians have been more media friendly than Oaten in the last couple of years. His problem is illustrated by this satricial piece by Armando Iannucci in today's Observer (there is a very entertaining piece on David Cameron too).
"Mark Oaten writes for The Observer: Hi. I'm Mark Oaten and I'm campaigning to become the next leader of the Liberal Democrats. Today, I want to outline why I think that's sensible. Everywhere I go, I see on the streets very few Liberal Democrats, and I think that's disgusting. I want a modern, 21st-century Liberal Democratic Party. We must aim high. Within five years, I want to see the first Liberal Democrat in space. And I really think I can get there, with your help and sufficient funding from Nasa. Thank you."
Perhaps the fact that Oaten's campaign is being run by Asteroid Opik adds to the impression of being a little light on the weighty scales. His "Tough Liberalism" policy provoked belly laughs from people outside the Liberal Democrats but more damagingly went down like cup of cold sick with the sandal wearers. They just don't like words like 'tough', and Oaten should have known that. They also felt he was far too cosy with Charles Clarke and David Davis after 7/7. But on that, they misjudge him. Having been present at three of the tri-partite meetings I can vouch for the fact that Oaten was constructive at all times and wanted to do the right thing. He and David Davis were at one on the civil liberties issues and stopped Charles Clarke from being as authoritarian as he was minded to be. But there came a time, in early September, when Oaten changed. He started the process of breaking the political consensus. It culminated in the childish leaking of an emailed private letter to Oaten and Davis from Charles Clarke, where a secretary in the Home Secretary's office had left the Word Tracking on. Oaten's office had spotted this and seen that the Home Secretary had watered down the first draft of the letter. They leaked it to the press. Clarke was made to look a prat and he no doubt had words with his secretary, but did it advance the cause of protecting the country against terror? No it didn't.
But even more damagingly is Oaten's inability to gain much support from his parliamentary colleagues. It is a damning indictment that he couldn't get seven MPs to sign his nomination paper without resorting to ask the rent-a-nominators John Hemming and Mike Hancock to sign up. To have held the senior rank of Home Affairs Spokesman for two years and not been able to impress 10% of your colleagues is hardly the stuff of which successful leadership campaigns are made. He wanted to be the David Cameron of the Liberal Democrats. Instead, within a week, he's become the Malcolm Rifkind. And we all know what happened to him.
UPDATE: 9pm There are RUMOURS that Mark Oaten might be forced to withdraw. More HERE. Say it ain't so!
Oaten is not particularly popular within the party, either among activists or MPs, many of whom think his opinion of himself is higher than his ability. His "liberalism" is not instinctive; he started out as an Owenite SDP councillor.
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