Archive: Mark Oaten

News International, gays and Lib Dems.

Sorry for another post on this, but Tim Ireland has some more thoughts on what happened on certain blogs over the weekend.

The timeline seems to go something like this:

  1. Wednesday evening: Guido and the Monkey release a drunken podcast which contains childish jokes, including ones about Mark Oaten being a paedophile
  2. Friday: Comments are posted on Guido & the Monkey along the lines of “make sure you don’t get sued by Oaten!!”
  3. Saturday: Oaten resigns after News of the World allegations
  4. Sunday morning: Guido claims the scalp, even though the allegations made on the podcast were completely different to the ones made by NOTW
  5. Sunday afternoon: Bloggers note, it’s not a lot to be proud of
  6. Sunday evening: Guido says, “Neh neh, I have a six-figure-per-month readership, and you’re just jealous because you didn’t have the scoop — now fuck off and read the Indy
  7. Monday morning: Bloggers point out that it wasn’t Guido’s scoop. Unless you think having homosexual sex makes you a paedophile. Which might be a bit off
  8. Monday afternoon: Feeling the heat, Guido diverts attention to Recess Monkey. Guido fucks off forever, after accusing anybody who thinks that linking homosexual relationships with paedophilia is a bit iffy of being politically correct
  9. Monday evening: After a quiet weekend, Recess springs into action: “Nobody said Oaten was gay on the podcast.”
  10. Bloggers reply: Oh really? So it wasn’t a scoop then?
  11. Monkey: “It’s only satire lads! Besides, nobody complained on Thursday, so why are you complaining now?”
  12. See point #2
  13. Guido: “It’s only gossip! Get off your high-horse!”

So it wasn’t a scoop then?

I’d rather be on the high horse.

Tim Ireland has a neat roundup of Oaten bloggery. Update: Blood & Treasure as well.

Before I start this post I want to point out that while I am generally a Liberal Democrat supporter, I’ve never really been a fan of Mark Oaten’s at all. I and I was quite delighted when he pulled out of the leadership race earlier this week.

But I couldn’t give two hoots about what any politician gets up to in their private life. What Mark Oaten did may have been naive and indeed wrong, and particularly silly just weeks after he invited journalists into his home to show them how much of a family man he is. But what Oaten did is also perfectly human. And no doubt if you were to spend long enough raking in anybody’s bins you would find something potentially embarassing.

What I really dislike about this whole thing is the implication from some quarters that what Mark Oaten did was made worse by the fact that he was engaged in homosexual acts. And, indeed, the implication that now he has been a secret homosexual for all his life who has been leading a double life (because we all know that you can’t fancy both dudes and chicks, huh?! Because bisexuality “doesn’t really exist”; it’s just “being greedy”).

If it is indeed the case that Mark Oaten has been holding his nose while bringing up his family because he was actually homosexual, the saddest aspect of this all is the fact that — in this day and age — he still felt the need to hide his sexual preferences from our society. That’s the real scandal.

And the thing is, he’s probably right, because some of the comments I’ve seen have bordered on homophobia. Even reputable news organisations like Sky and the BBC were calling the prostitute a “rentboy”, which I reckon is roughly equivalent to calling a paedophile suspect a “kiddy fiddler” on the national news.

One post that I read last night from a Labour supporter (and Labour supporters are always the biggest cunts of them all when it comes to this sort of thing) basically amounted to “HAHA LOOK AT THOSE LIB DEMS HAVING SEX *snigger snigger*.” Hah, yeah, because it wasn’t very long ago when David Blunkett was embroiled in a sex scandal, was it? Yeah, that had corruption wrapped up in it and everything! And it involved not one but two families! Bonus points!

It turns out that the new ‘beta’ (read: we don’t know if this is okay so we’ll do it on a small scale then claim the glory if it turns out to be okay) podcast Guido and the Monkey is claiming this one as it was first out with the Mark Oaten revelations on Wednesday. Nice one. As Justin at Chicken Yoghurt, and many others have pointed out, it’s actually quite depressing. I like Guido’s and Recess Monkey’s blogs. But I wish they would stick with the jokes and jibes rather than this privacy-invading sub-tabloid tittle-tattle.

Some people used to think that it a failure of the British “blogosphere” that it had never claimed a “scalp” like they so often apparently do in America. Well, I thought it was actually something to be quite proud of. American blogs are, almost without exception, universally shit. Here in Britain we have enough gutter tabloid journalists who make careers out of claiming scalps. Does nobody else find it a tad hypocritical that bloggers go around looking for a scalp to take, but then jump up and down with rage whenever somebody loses their job because they are a blogger?

We don’t need bloggers trying their hardest to ape the tabloids, especially when the “scalps” that they’ve claimed are so lame. Because let’s face it. The British blogoshere’s scalps — all two of them, and that’s including Oaten which is being fucking kind because nobody gave a shit until the News of the World had it — have been lame scalps.

The first one was Dilpazier Aslam, a trainee journalist who might or might not have held anti-semitic views. Hardly earth-shattering. And the scalping was orchestrated by an American who spent most of his time criticising The Guardian anyway, so he followed his compatriots’ convention when he sniffed blood by banging on and on about it long after everybody else got bored of it, but to the point where The Guardian was forced to sack Aslam. For perhaps or perhaps not having anti-semitic views.

And now there is Oaten. As has been pointed out left, right and centre (okay, well maybe more just left and centre), it is pretty much a non-story. The only people who should be concerned about Oaten’s private life are those in Oaten’s private life, namely his family. And as several sensible bloggers have pointed out, I wouldn’t like to be Oaten’s children right now — they have to face the school playground in the morning.

That bloggers think this is something to be proud about shows that the blogosphere has come full circle. Blogging was initially humble, and I partially subscribed to the view that the blogosphere was particularly good representing views that were often sidelined by the mainstream media. Nowadays, some bloggers are so desperate to make a splash and claim a scalp that they are prepared to stoop to the very lowest levels, apeing tabloid newspapers by swarming around a scandal like a bunch of angry-for-no-reason wasps.

I’ve not heard Guido and the Monkey — normal people ain’t allowed to hear it yet, remember? — but the format seems quite familiar. It has been well worn by the mainstream media. You get somebody from the right, somebody from the left, pretend that’s balance and then have them both spend their whole time taking the piss out of the Lib Dems. Blogging is no longer an antidote to the mainstream media; it’s now desperate to act just like the mainstream media. The blogosphere is poorer for it.

Google wins again. It is quite common for people to land on any blog via some strange or unlikely search term. As such, I don’t often share them (although you can see them all for yourself if you want by looking at my Sitemeter stats). But I was surprised to find out that I am on page 1 on a Google search for “Mark Oaten rent boys”. Even weirder than that, the guilty page is the Scotland category.

Update: He’s not the Messiah: “mark oaten is a naughty boy”.

I can’t say that, on Saturday 7th January 2006, I am surprised that Charles Kennedy has resigned. Earlier on in the week I would have been. It seemed as though there were a few MPs who were unhappy with Charles Kennedy’s leadership, but that he did have the support of ‘grass roots’ members. It certainly seemed that way from reading a lot of Lib Dem blogs. Even with Vince Cable’s letter that signed by half of his front bench, it seemed as though the ordinary members still wanted Kennedy to go on.

But that all seemed to change with Charles Kennedy’s coincident announcements that he had a drink problem, and that there would be a leadership election (and the following Newsnight poll that suggested that half of his MPs had lost confidence in him). Overnight, Lib Dem bloggers seemed to change their mind completely.

(Update: Please see the comments, where James Graham clarifies the the reasons why he changed his mind.)

Since Thursday the fact that Charles Kennedy had a drink problem has been described as a “badly-kept secret”, which isn’t really the case. As Nick Robinson pointed out on his blog, it was a bit of an open secret that he maybe sometimes had a bit more to drink than was wise. But the idea that it was a medical problem and that he was undergoing treatment was certainly a surprise.

At first I wasn’t too sure what to make of it. The fact that the announcement was coupled with a leadership contest made me feel that the issue over whether or not he was fit to lead the party in his condition would be resolved easily enough by Lib Dem members.

As the night wore on, though, it became clear that holding a leadership contest simply wasn’t enough. Front-running contenders all refused to throw their hat into the ring, having previously promised that they would not stand against Kennedy. Yet it was clear that the parliamentary party had lost confidence in Kennedy and that change was needed.

He was going to spend the weekend with his family. But the inevitability of his resignation presumably led him to get it over and done with today. I was surprised when I heard that he had an announcement to make — but it was no surprise that that announcement was that he would not stand in the forthcoming leadership election.

I have no idea whether or not Kennedy’s drink problem affected his ability to do the job — I don’t know anything like enough about the issue. If you believe what you hear, though, it has been the cause of him missing particular engagements. And there have also been concerns about his over all performance, and that this may well have been affected by his drinking.

I read that some MPs once cornered him in his office to get Kennedy to admit that he was drinking too much. So, although I doubt that Kennedy’s drink problem is the real reason why MPs wanted him out (undoubtedly some MPs are thinking about their careers here), I would like to think that part of it all was a real concern about Kennedy’s health. Do I still trust MPs too much?

But now the Lib Dems need to think about the future. Nosemonkey thinks they’re fucked. I was not so sure. But then I was watching BBC News 24 and they read out a whole load of emails — and every single one of them criticised the Lib Dems for, as they saw it, stabbing Charles Kennedy in the back. But, although leadership crises like this never play well with the public in the short term, I don’t see this being a big issue at the next election, for instance.

In the long term, getting rid of Charles Kennedy won’t have been a problem. Whether or not you think Charles Kennedy was a successful leader of the Liberal Democrats depends, of course, on how you define success. You can say that no third party has had as much representation in the House of Commons since the 1920s. But on the other hand you can see last year’s election as a massive open goal (because of Iraq and the illiberal nature of both of the other major parties) that the Lib Dems failed to capitalise on. Remember the ‘decapitation strategy’? It completely failed.

I don’t really subscribe to the latter view. At the time of the election, I felt as though the Lib Dems did just about as well as you could expect under the circumstances (ie. the grossly warped electoral system). Furthermore, Charles Kennedy seemed to appeal to an awful lot of voters. Mind you, a lot of that appeal may have disappeared on Thursday — he had turned into a liar, and it is difficult to have a liar leading a party which is trying to capitalise on the lack of trust in Tony Blair.

As a Lib Dem supporter / voter (but not member) I don’t have any major issues with Charles Kennedy no longer being leader of the Lib Dems. But they must choose the right leader. Electing, say, Mark Oaten as their new leader would be a disaster: we would then have three Tony Blairs, which is exactly what we don’t need at the moment. Simon Hughes, although I am sure he is a nice enough person, does seem a little bit weird. The only other really notable Lib Dem is Lembit Öpik, but he plays the Boris Johnson role in the Lib Dems.

However, it seems most likely that Menzies Campbell is going to be the new leader, which, despite what Guido may say, I think will be excellent. The Lib Dems face a tough time ahead. They must tackle an electoral system that is grossly biased in favour of Labour, and a rejuvenated Conservative party that is trying to plonk its arse on the centre ground, towards Lib Dem territory (albeit rather unconvincingly).

I think Menzies Campbell would be the perfect person to lead the Lib Dems through that. But his age means that he can’t stay in power for a decade like many Liberal leaders have done — so those voting for Campbell will have to keep one eye on the new generation of Lib Dem MPs.

Update: Tim Worstall has an interesting post. One party worker apparently reckons that Charles Kennedy has been an alcoholic since before he became leader.