Hughes could win; Oaten has a duty to stand

According to the Guardian today, Simon Hughes is wavering on whether to stand for Lib Dem leader on the basis that he doesn’t want to fight a contest he doesn’t think he can win.

Now, I suspect that is a bit of spin designed to increase his underdog status, but if true he needn’t worry. The fact that this bloke has come out against him today, despite the convention that ex-leaders don’t get involved in such mucky things, suggests that the Campbell camp is really, very scared that once Hughes gets moving his natural charisma, combined with the blood on Ming’s hands and the label of “caretaker” will melt the Scot’s support away.

In the circles I gravitate within, there is a saying that Simon Hughes is someone you really like if you don’t know him very well. Broadly, that is true. He has been a very disappointing President and a great many of people I know who were inclined to support him before he took up that post would not dream of doing so now. But I do respect that he represents a large body of opinion within the party and it would be a crime if he doesn’t stand.

The same, to a lesser extent, applies to Mark Oaten. Although he doesn’t have a chance of winning, Mark has the added incentive that it can only help his profile and he is in for a shot next time around. He has spent years building up a leadership campaign, first via Liberal Future and latterly more secretly (the fact that he has had someone in place running his leadership campaign for the past three months, not to mention that ridiculous Telegraph interview before Christmas, makes a nonsense of his protestations of loyalty. Nick Barlow is right to compare him to Mark Anthony). To not stand now will simply demonstrate to his detractors (hello!) that he is the waste of space we have always said he is.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned the phone calls I was getting yesterday wondering about constitutional ways to exclude Hughes on the grounds that he is Party President (no dice; as soon as the election is handed over to a returning officer – presumably Lord Rennard – then he’s free) – make no mistake, the Campbell camp are not at all confident. At 9/2, a punt on Hughes looks seriously good value at the moment.


  1. “I should have mentioned the phone calls I was getting yesterday wondering about constitutional ways to exclude Hughes on the grounds that he is Party President…”

    That sounds nice and democratic!

  2. If it is true that Simon Hughes has been a “very disappointing” president, and that previous supporters will not support him anymore, then surely Ming should have nothing to fear?
    Personally I will suport him anyway, not because I think he will win, but just to send a message to the party not to take on a Thatcherite economic agenda and make themselves identical to the other political parties. I am curious, what are you going to do?

  3. How well exactly do you know Mark Oaten?
    My husband used to work for him so we know him really well.
    A ‘waste of space’ is the very last thing he is.
    He’s an incredibly effective constituency MP.
    I know. I’ve lived in Winchester.
    How well do YOU know him?
    And when have you lived in his constituency?

  4. Leah,

    I’m not the slightest bit interested in what he is like as a person. What I see is someone who led the pro-Labour faction within the party, followed by someone who claimed to be a One Nation Conservative, followed by someone who claimed to be the living embodiment of liberalism. I see someone who launched and then quickly aborted his leadership campaign before Christmas, who has had a member of staff working on his campaign for months, yet proclaims absolute loyalty to Kennedy and had no role in his downfall, which is laughable. I also see a very lousy performance on the home affairs brief.

    I’m sure he’s lovely and is really, really kind to animals, but that doesn’t make him leadership material.


    What am I going to do? We shall see.

  5. I don’t question his loyalty to Kennedy.
    For at least a year I have known that Kennedy has promised to back Mark
    as his successor.
    Why be disloyal to someone who has promised you that?
    Mark stood by Kennedy because they are good friends to mutual benefit.
    And Kennedy obviously doesn’t question Mark’s loyalty!
    Ming Campbell brought about Kennedy’s downfall – we know this now.
    Now he’s going to stand to benefit selfishly from what he orchestrated.
    And I don’t think Mark’s win on the 90 day rule was lousy.
    Also it’s the members that determine policy not the leader so his politics
    are less important than his personality and how good a man he is.

  6. That begs some serious questions though. If Kennedy knew all about Oaten actively working on his candidacy, then why have we just gone through a monthlong pantomime of him insisting he wanted to stay? That would suggest that both Kennedy and Oaten have been doggedly sticking to a strategy seemingly designed to cause the maximum level of splits and acrimony within the parliamentary party purely for selfish political advantage. Is that what you’re really saying?

  7. I didn’t say Kennedy knew Oaten was actively working on his candidacy.
    I didn’t say Oaten was actively working on his candidacy.
    But Kennedy wanted Mark to succeed him.
    And Mark would support Kennedy for as long as he was leader.
    Mark was very sad when Kennedy resigned.
    It’s only because Kennedy has resigned that Mark is now going to stand.
    It was Ming Campbell that caused the acrimony and the splits.
    He brought Kennedy’s resignation about earlier than those two expected it.
    Neither Kennedy nor Oaten are in for selfish political advantage.
    Ming is though – he got Kennedy to resign and is now standing himself!

  8. In other words, it was in Mark Oaten’s tactical interests to profess loyalty and let others do the dirty work for him, which is precisely my point.

    As for your claim that the leader doesn’t decide policy, that neither squares up with the fact that this has been ignored by the senior party for months now, and that the leadership election itself is a ballot on the policy direction the members want the party to go. You profess to be left-leaning Leah; surely you can see that a vote for Oaten is a vote for the party to move to the right?

  9. I don’t see that at all.
    It’s not a vote for the party to be right wing, it’s a vote for the party to be young and modern.
    Not full of sandal wearers.
    For me (and Kennedy) the leadership election is NOT a ballot on whether we are left or right wing.
    It’s a ballot on style and personality and how we need to look like we mean business.
    All mark says is there should be a role for private business in the public sector.
    I work in the private sector and I understand that.
    I don’t think just because you are left wing and believe in social justice you have to despise business like some LD’s do
    In some cases privatisation hasn’t worked, in others it definitely has, a case of setting criteria.
    Mark did not ask Ming to do the ‘dirty work for him’. He was not involved in that.
    He just professed loyalty to Charles and carried out his portfolio.
    Any Home Affairs Sec worth his weight would be hopeful that at some stage he’d get his turn
    Or are you saying that if you were Home Affairs Sec you’d expect your boss to go on for years?.

  10. Bottom line: Oaten has had someone in place for months preparing his leadership bid. At the very least he was expectant that others would do the dirty on Kennedy and opted to prepare his own candidacy rather than spend time saving Charles. It’s a funny kind of loyalty, but we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  11. No probs – let’s agree to disagree.
    I don’t know what Mark (one man) could have done to save Charles against the nasty
    work of Ming and his followers.
    Publicly (and I’m sure privately) we do know that he kept reiterating his support for Charles.
    That’s more than we can say for either Ming or Hughes.
    I expect Mark just made a realistic guess that it was going to happen and
    made his contingency plans. Like the others he knew about the drinking.
    He also did a lot of covering up but didn’t lose patience like the others.
    I’m sure I would do the same if I was him – try to save my friend and at the same time
    think about things I could organise to be ready for that eventuality if it happened.
    You could say that Charles would have wanted him to do that as well.
    And Mark decided not to stand against Kennedy.
    Anyway let’s agree to disagree like you said.

  12. Woopdedoo. I get to say it again.
    This left/right thing is a load of rubbish.
    Liberalism just does not fit in it, left/right is still largely a class based measure (even if its put in different terms), we never did fit into it.

    Nobody wants to make us a Thatcherite party identicle with the other two (apart from Tony Blair with his call for us to become Social Democrats like him, but thankfully he doesn’t get a say).

    I’m beginning to think it is disgusting that those who call themselves ‘social liberals’ attack those who put forward different ideas as being uninterested in social liberalsm. Some economic policies similar to those of neo-liberals may be proposed by some, but the major difference is a committment to social liberalism (the main aim seems to be to promote the economy in order to pay for social liberalism) along with comittments to a representative government, diversification of power, equality under the law, plurality… etc
    These are what make us a truly distinct party; the continuation and development of a Liberal tradition. We are the only party in British politics which can truly trace out ideology back to the 1680s with massive development whilst keeping the fundamental ideas made between then and now and the only mainstream party which can even make an attempt at being called Liberal.

    What this is is more a difference between methods and outlook as far as I can tell. This needs to be debated, and probably will not be fully solved, but that is fine, it creates a bit of tension in the party from which new ideas emerge (if there was no tension and new ideas then the party would have gone the way of the Dodo many years ago)

    Remember, we do have a lot lot more in common than any differences 🙂 (more so than the Tories or Labour it seems…)

  13. I am beginning to find this dialogue surreal.

    This is a political party, not a social club. First and foremost, one’s loyalty is to the Party, its values and its members, not specific individuals who happen to hold high office.

    Are those excoriating Ming Campbell seriously suggesting that the Party’s future prospects matter less than Charles Kennedy’s amour propre?

    Ming Campbell should be congratulated for his strength and courage in helping to rid the Party of an incompetent and under-performing leader.

    Conscientiously, what else could Ming and his colleagues have done?

    I have no idea what Mark Oaten is about, other than Mark Oaten. I do not trust him, and I doubt his ability to lead a united Party. Simon Hughes is an admirable man, but lacks the necessary focus and self-discipline to lead (in my opinion).

    Which leaves Ming Campbell.

    Oh, but one of your correspondents seems to think that the Party has to be “young”. Which means that people like Ming should consign themselves to the scrapheap (or jump off Beachy Head if 30 years on state benefits is an unappealling prospect). Ageism, like racism and sexism, has no place in a LIBERAL party.

  14. if you’d spent a lot of time around Simon you might not think he was such an admirable man.
    I don’t.

  15. How can you distrust Mark Oaten if you don’t know him?!!
    I base my thoughts on who I trust or not on what I know of them and how I judge their
    Just deciding you don’t trust someone with no grounds is very odd.
    I do think this party needs a young leader. Politics is old enough as it is.
    It’s chock full of old white men who aren’t representative of the population at all.
    We really need to change that.
    As a young woman in politics I can tell you it’s not always (hardly ever) a pleasant environment.
    As an older man is Ming capable of the energy that the job requires?
    I understand that he has been ill, just like Charles Kennedy has been ill.
    So if you think Charles was incompetent you must think the same of Ming.
    Alcoholism is an illness after all.

  16. Firstly, Simon Hughes.

    I have spent a small amount of time around Simon, and hold to the opinion that he is a decent, honourable, well-intentioned man.

    I note that one of Simon’s supporters is Tim Farron. When Tim was a penniless, homeless ex-student, Simon gave him a job and put a roof over his head. That is the sort of man Simon is.

    I distrust Mark Oaten because he comes across as a PR professional looking for good ways to impress people rather than having firm principles and seeking to persuade and educate the electorate.

    As a party, we really need to rid ourselves of this ageist poison which allows members to speak contemptuously of “old, white men” (on the unspoken assumption that this is an unfairly privileged, undeserving group). Many old, white men are living on the margins (often on £79 a week) because the state denies them the right to earn a living (possibly in breach of Britain’s international treaty obligations). To speak of such people as though they are a superfluous burden on society simply reinforces their marginalisation.

    Precisely what is the basis of your wish to exclude old, white men from public life? Some neo-Hegelian notion of “knowing one’s place”?

    If Ming’s age means that he is incapable of doing the job, then fair enough. But it doesn’t. Merit is surely the sole criterion. If he can do the job, then it matters not if he is 64, 74 or 104. (Konrad Adenauer was still Chancellor of Germany at 87.)

    As a middle-class man born in 1941 who has lead a healthy lifestyle, Ming is likely to live into his 90s and suffer no significant cognitive impairment until his mid 80s.

  17. Where did I say that I want to rid society of old, white men?
    You are missing my point – see our blog for an explanation of this.
    My Dad is a middle aged, white man. I have explained to him what I mean.
    No need to oust old, white men at all.
    All I’m saying is give others the right to a fair competition against them.
    And that I personally don’t want one for a leader at this stage.

    A 40 year old like Mark could represent the young AND the elderly in a more balanced way I suspect.

    If we’re talking about ageism then as a young woman I can tell you a few tales
    about the behaviour of members of this Party towards me – many of whom were old white men!
    I’ve very definitely been a victim of ageism, more so than any older white man could ever claim!

    It’s still rife, as is sexism. I’m suffering from both ‘isms’ at the moment so little sympathy for those suffering only one.

    I know a lot of lovely old, white men. My Dad, David Rendel.

    But I know a lot who have made patronising, condescending remarks to me in council meetings and
    spent the whole time commenting on my looks and not the political questions. It is very frustrating.

    My point is open up the competition to others please. Give others, another generation, a go at winning too.

    I don’t think Ming is the best man for the job. I think his illness would impair his judgement the same as for CK.
    I’m saying you can’t say it’s debilitating for one person or for one disease and not the other.

    And are you going to say that depression impedes performance? Then you’re getting really dodgy.
    That becomes mental health discrimination and illegal.

  18. PS See my comments on our blog about Mark’s compassion towards disabilities.

    Simon does take in homeless men I know. I also know the real reason for this!!!

    Let’s just say I wouldn’t accept the way that Simon treats me from anyone else.

  19. Some unpleasant innuendo about Simon Hughes. Concocted by the Labour Party in the 1980s, in point of fact. If ANY of it were true, the tabloids would have destroyed him.

    Not the sort of thing you ought to be saying, unless you have the statutory declarations to prove it. For your own sake, that is. Simon could issue proceedings against you, and the webmaster, and require the ISP to shut the site down. He could also freeze your assets ex parte.

    In what way do Ming’s health problems impair his judgment? I don’t understand the logic here. Charles Kennedy is an alcoholic. Alcohol does impair one’s judgment. Having cancer (which has been cured) does not of necessity affect cognitive functioning.

    I agree there should be a balance in the Parliamentary Party and elsewhere which reflects the breakdown of age and gender within society.

    However, when it comes to electing a leader, merit should be the sole criterion. If a 64 year-old white man is the best person for the job, then his age, skin pigmentation and gender matter not one jot.

  20. As Angus suggests, let’s not go down the route of libel, people. Leah, that was a very silly thing to post, particularly from someone who claims that they object to being condescended and patronised. Here endeth the thread.

  21. Judging by most of the comments at “Meeting the Challenge” and looking at the betting I think we can all safely say that Mark Oaten’s campaign is dead in the water.
    Personally I am sick to death of hearing about who did or did not do for Kennedy. It’s water under the bridge.

    I’m surprised to hear what an unpleasant time you’re having in politics Leah, can’t say I found it anything other than extremely amenable. Perhaps it’s the company you keep?

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