A Question of Judgement

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Is it really wise for the Oaten camp to come up with this?

Ming has not been a well man. Leading the third party is an enormous strain. You don’t have the back-up that the two main parties enjoy.

Really? Why, then, did Mark believe that Kennedy was up for the job, despite his debilitating condition? If Oaten is going to make Campbell’s health an issue, then he has serious questions of judgement to answer himself.

A remarkably nasty start to a campaign.

UPDATE: The Times speculates that Oaten is planning to pull out for Campbell at the last minute. Personally I can’t see it. He’s spent the past week burning all his bridges with Ming’s camp – if he doesn’t stand then his attacks will only help Simon Hughes in the end – and to do so would effectively render him a less serious political operator than John Hemming (no offence, John). As I said on Monday, he’s spent far too much time preparing for this moment to bottle out now.

27 thoughts on “A Question of Judgement

  1. I expect it is because we have been told lately that a leader must be fully fit.
    Now that the parliamentary party has decided this how can they vote in Ming?

    I think the comment assumes the premise that the party has decided we must
    not have leaders with debilitating conditions re Kennedy ousting.

    As to an Oatenwatch blog. Don’t you have better things to do?
    How about campaigning locally or writing/delivering Focus leaflets as we are doing.
    By being obsessed with slating Oaten you just make yourselves look sad
    and this weakens your authority to comment on him.

    But I suppose now we are Oatenites so we will be attacked too. Hey ho.

  2. Don’t think there’s any need for an Oatenwatch blog.

    The Oaten campaign launch yesterday (which has got savaged in the press in a way which surprised me) reminded me of nothing more than the Don Foster campaign of 1999 – I still have the campaign t-shirt someone gave me. It looked very thin – on substance and of people – and appeared rather as a bargaining position.

    I’m surprised at the rather personal comments attributed to his campaign team – there seems to be a lot of this about.

    Leah – if you’re volunteering, I can arrange for parts of Reading. ‘Respect agenda’ optional…

  3. Damn. I was hoping to be the first one to mention Don Foster. I suspect the tshirt you have is the same one that used to adorn the LDYS office! 🙂

  4. Nah, I gave the one from the LDYS to Becky Webb when she was working for Don and dared her to wear it for work – I’m not sure she ever did though 😉

  5. As far as I can see, Mark’s campaign launch was all style and no substance – what one expects from a PR professional.

    The attack on Ming Campbell is wholly unacceptable. Ming has been open about his health problems, and about his age. Unlike Charles Kennedy, he suffers from no condition which is likely to impair his judgment.

    Electing Ming as leader would actually send a message to older people that the scrapheap is not their inevitable fate.

    Oh, by the way. Mark needs to tell us if the “Daily Mail” is correct when it says that he supports conscription. And he also needs to come clean about his flirtation with Owen’s “continuing” SDP.

  6. not paranoid, but that’s my personal experience of the anti-Oatens (see our blog) –
    that they always love to have a go at anyone who is even vaguely related to MO.
    not sure why you mention the ‘Respect agenda’ Gareth?
    Presumably a comment on my left-wing leaning?
    Or because I had a verbal fight with their activists at Leicester South on Polling Day?
    It’s okay re Reading I’ve got plenty of LD tasks on the go in Merton at the mo with own campiagn.

  7. Leah – Whose blog?

    Respect agenda had Bliar championing Reading (and curiously enough, being championed by arch-toady Salter.)

    James – I think Andy Martin gave me my Don T-shirt – may have exchanged it for a Jackie…… 😉

  8. Angus – agree with most of what you say, but part of the problem with yesterday’s launch was the lack of style. This genuinely surprised me.

  9. Gareth – still confused by what you mean?
    I mean our blog – mine and my husband’s – Robin Darbyshire.

    Salter is a twat. I can’t stand him. I am v.proud of having once wound him up big stylie in the papers.

    He took the time to write to David Rendel to complain about me trying to scupper his constituncy boundary.

    It’s not because of his politics that I don’t like him. Just because he is a rude, rude bully of a man.

    I remember being thoroughly disappointed because I’d been hopeful that he would be a man of the people.

    Sadly, he lacks basic manners which you still need in a demagogue.

  10. Ian

    I’m not that keen on the various ‘…..watch’ blogs that slag off someone’s opposing political parties.

    I would hate to see a “…..watch” site that is against one of our own candidates. I’d like to think that the comments that we’re all going to make are going to be nine-tenths positive about who we support, rather than nine-tenths negative about someone we don’t want…

    Naive of me, perhaps.

  11. The attacks on Mark Oaten are over the top and unfair. I think Mark has tried, sometimes successfuly, sometimes not to develop an approach on crime and justice that is Liberal but not seen as wishy-washy. I agree that the debate on the Licensing Act was hardly Mark’s finest hour, but there were plenty of Lib Dems in parliament and local govt who hardly covered themselves with glory over this.

    To declare an interest, Mark was a colleague in Watford Lib Dems, my group leader on Watford Council and is therefore an old friend. But then, I didn’t always agree with him then and still don’t. I will support Ming in this leadership election.

    Mark no doubt deserves some of the criticism he gets. But much of it borders on personal vilification.

  12. All very well Iain, but since this is politics and not a plot from Grange Hill, there is a deadly serious question to be asked: what do people respond in this way to Mark? It isn’t just because he was pro-project; Ming was as well. It isn’t just because he’s an “Orange Booker”; Huhne, Clegg, Cable and Webb were as well.

    He’s had an image problem almost since the day he got elected. As time goes on, more and more people come up and tell me what a lovely and affable person he is, and yet he manages to inspire more and more people to absolute frenzy of hatred. Why? And why has he never done anything about it? You’re his friend, you tell me.

    Everything I’ve written about him here is pretty mild, and suggesting he has a head like a potato is hardly more harsh than comparing Ming to a cartoon villain (I don’t see people complaining about that being unfair), or even the snide innuendos that Oaten and Opik have been making for the past week.

    And we do have genuine criticisms. His lack of principled conviction. His eternal scheming. His authoritarian instincts (Viv Raper gives another good reminder here). His poor grap of policy in other areas. I very much look forward to reading your “Magnum Opus” but it had better have a stronger argument than “he’s nice really, once you get to know him”.

  13. On Mark Oaten.

    First, a quibble. On the Party website, it says he went to “Watford Comprehensive”. There is no such institution. He attended Queens School, which is in Bushey. It also says he is a graduate of “Hertfordshire Polytechnic”. Again, no such institution. It was then known as “Hatfield Polytechnic” and is now the University of Hertfordshire. I have good friends who, like Mark, are alumni of both.

    If Mark cut the PR junk, looked us in the eye, spoke to us in English and derived his policies from values rather than market research, I would have a lot more respect for him.

    Also, I will never support a leader who wants to force people to join the Army (as the “Daily Mail” says he does).

    The amateur psychologist in me suggests that Mark has two rather big chips on his shoulder:-

    (1) He came from a middle-class background yet attended a state school whose intake drew mainly from rough council estates. He probably got flak for this, hence his obsession with “anti-social behaviour”.

    (2) His father is an Oxford graduate, yet Mark only managed to go to a polytechnic. He must have felt himself a failure and a disappointment.

    While I am wary of having a non-lawyer do the home affairs brief, I think Mark has acquitted himself quite well.

    Mark’s baldness is irrelevant. As is Campbell’s age (provided he is capable of doing the job). A lot of this is perception. Ming is 64 and old-looking. John Prescott is four years older, but looks younger. No-one notices Prescott’s age because he has a full head of dark brown hair.

    Also, Mark’s mother is past the mandatory scrapheap age, yet she is a Hertfordshire County councillor.

    (Incidentally, Prescott’s staff are barred from employment at Prescott’s age.)

  14. Angus’s post is junk that normally should be ignored. But given the nature of posts on this blog and in this thread I’ll rise to the bait before we end up with deconstructions of Mark Oaten’s social background doing the rounds of the Lib Dem blogs.

    I don’t know quite what you are trying to suggest here Angus – that Mark doesn’t know which school or college he went to? His Who’s Who entry is correct – perhaps the party webmaster just made a mistake.

    Mark could have easily gone to the prestigious Watford Boys’ Grammar School, where his father, taught so it’s highly unlikely he has a chip on his shoulder about the school he attended.

    In any case Queens’, Bushey, does not draw ‘mainly from rough council estates’ but is a popular comprehensive with quite hot competition for places. This is in part because it used to be Bushey Grammar School.

    Going to Hatfield Poly was just a case of attending the nearest Higher Ed establishment that enabled him to continue living in Watford. Since Mark was the youngest councillor in his home town at 22, the first SDP councillor there, managing director of a public affairs consultancy at 30 and an MP at 32, I doubt if he regards himself as a failure.

    And lastly, this ‘if he was prepared to look party members in the eye’ is nonsense too. Love him or loathe him, Mark is pretty ubiquitous at conference fringe meetings and certainly not one to shirk a debate with those who disagree with him in the party.

    The logic of James’s previous post would be that we should all ask what it is about Mark that makes people like Angus write nonsense about him. I prefer the view that people should refrain from writing nonsense.

  15. The logic of your argument is that people should just all be nice and fair about each other. Back in the real world however, they aren’t. In the political world (which is at least marginally related to the real world), that fact makes and breaks careers.

    The dustbin of history is filled to the brim with nearly nearly men who people just didn’t understand.

  16. I try to be fair about party colleagues when writing in public. I also try to be accurate. The fact that you appear to welcome obvious nonsense like Angus’s post while having a poke at me for correcting it tends to call into question the worth of anything else you post. Are you really saying that one of the purpsoe of your blog is to knock lumps out of people you don’t like regardless of factual accuracy or quality of argument? And encourage others to do the same.

    If I was to reply on a level with your previous post and engage with your suggestion to stop being so nice, I suppose I would end up with an argument along the following lines:

    James, Mark Oaten for all his faults is an MP with a secure majority, a front bench spokesman, leadership contender, who is taken seriously by the national media and quite a lot of party members. You, on the other hand, appear to run a blog for sad hacks. Who is more likely to end up in the dustbin of history?

    But what I am really saying is that I enjoy the blog, agree with much of what you write about most things, but find your treatment of Mark Oaten unhelpful – a case of playing the man and not the ball. Or perhaps I am just too incorrigibly nice.

  17. Come on Iain, I’ve made plenty of substantive arguments against Mark Oaten – I’ve just summarised them above – and the only thing you’re taking issue with is my repeated Mr Potato Head jokes. The substantive reasons are why I make potato jokes about Oaten, and not about Campbell, despite his similar domepatedness. Taking the piss out of your political opponents is a time honoured tradition. You should be addressing why I consider Oaten to be a political opponent, not bemoaing the fact that I do.

  18. Yes! Iain – loving your blog entry and posts, where have you been? You are saying exactly what I feel about this criticism of Mark – Robin and I have been saying this stuff about James’ blog for days and about how good a guy Mark is (see our blog).

    What I really want to know is how come Angus considered me saying I didn’t feel like the way Simon Hughes treated me (something you can’t argue with) as libellous while Angus is allowed to say that Mark is insecure and has chips on his shoulder despite not knowing Mark and that’s somehow okay?! That’s as personal and as nasty as you like. It’s just not cricket. I’m starting to think Angus’ posts are just pure crazy rubbish. Didn’t realise he was an amateur psychologist either! Careful now I might do some pop psychology on you Angus and your fanatical obsession with Simon Hughes and hatred of PR that is unjustified.

    Slating political opponents may be a tradition you like – myself, I think it smacks of insecurity particularly when you attack someone’s looks. I would not do that myself. If you have faith in your own arguments you do not need to.

    I’m finding it hard because I know my reasons for not liking Hughes anymore but I’m not allowed to say them online because that wouldn’t be fair on him – I agree. I won’t sink to that level of detail or attack.

    You’re also not playing fair by only allowing attacks on Mark but then at the slightest hint that someone doesn’t find Simon Hughes personable getting very defensive.

    And Angus – Mark does not base his opinions on market research. I strongly object to you saying that PR and market research are junk and well, I just laughed at the idea that you think the Home Sec must be a lawyer. Like that would be fair competition!

    James – yes, durr! Of course the world is being about nice and fair! What did you think it was about??? Doesn’t strike me that you are very caring or left wing if you think the world is about being nasty to others. Mark Oaten is nicer than you! Definitely wouldn’t trust you with the leadership…..

  19. You’re also not playing fair by only allowing attacks on Mark but then at the slightest hint that someone doesn’t find Simon Hughes personable getting very defensive.

    No, I’m just substantially more worried about being sued (as the publisher of this blog) about someone making allegations about their personal life than their resemblance to root vegetables.

    If you want to libel someone, do it on your own blog.

    As for Mark Oaten being nicer than me, I have absolutely no doubt he is. But once again, I would humbly suggest that you rebut the substantive instead of just talking about the peripheral. If people want to lecture me about playing the ball and not the man, they might want to actually do it themselves.

  20. Leah, the defamatory comment which you published has nothing to do with your claim that Simon Hughes has treated you in a way which you dislike. That is part of the rough and tumble of politics which a man in Simon’s position has to put up with. What you did was publish a false innuendo concerning an aspect of Simon’s life which I do not wish to discuss. There is no doubt that it is libellous and that Simon could take you to the cleaners if he felt so inclined (the fact that publication was actuated by malice would increase the measure of damages). From the perspective of morality, it is unfair and unjust.

    James poking fun at Mark Oaten’s appearance could be defamatory (see Berkoff v Burchill), but if I were the jury I would award damages in the sum of one penny.

    I am not a “fanatical” supporter of Simon Hughes. I admire the man and defend him against unfair criticism (such as yours). In the leadership election, I am supporting Ming Campbell.

    Also, there is nothing irrational about my musings on Mark Oaten. I want to know more about the man. Am I not entitled to question the motives of someone who aspires to high public office?

    Anything I have said about him which might be considered disparaging easily falls within the defence of fair comment on a matter of public interest.

    If either you or Iain think I write nonsense (even crazy nonsense) I probably won’t lose any sleep.

    I am a stickler for accuracy and I question and I probe.

    Queens School takes about a third of its intake from South Oxhey, which is a series of rough council estates. Alumni have described this to me.

    Also, Mark would have taken his “A” levels a full four years before he became a Watford Borough councillor.

    Why he didn’t go to a prestigious university is something of a mystery which Iain has not explained.

    If I was asking these questions about Tony Blair and David Cameron, neither Leah nor Iain would think me crazy. Or would they?

    Leah, do you really believe that a non-lawyer can handle the home affairs brief? How many non-lawyers know the Human Rights Act inside out, understand the doctrines of proportionality and Wednesbury unreasonableness, or the distinction between jurisdictional and non-jurisdictional errors of law?

  21. Iain Sharpe says:

    I don’t know quite what you are trying to suggest here Angus – that Mark doesn’t know which school or college he went to? His Who’s Who entry is correct – perhaps the party webmaster just made a mistake.

    But I find that the “party webmaster” has made more than one mistake, once at http://www.libdems.org.uk and then again at http://www.markoaten.com

    In order to help about a little bit, I’ve just corrected a further “mistake” I found on Wikipedia. I’m suprised that Iain isn’t a little bit more pro-active about fixing these “mistakes”, instead of just making excuses. After all his wife’s biography on the Watford Borough Council website does say that she was “Assistant Head of Queens School, Bushey the largest comprehensive school in Hertfordshire”. Surely Iain or Dorothy could have spotted the anomolies on Oaten’s various cv’s and got them fixed earlier?

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