Born on the 8th March 1964 at Watford in Hertfordshire, Mark Oaten was educated at the local Queen's Comprehensive school in Watford and Hertfordshire Polytechnic, following which worked in the field of public relations. He was first employed as a consultant by Shandwick Public Affairs from 1988 to 1992, then left to become the Group Director for Westminster Communications, finally being appointed Managing Director of Westminster Public Relations in 1996.
Mark joined the Social Democratic Party in the early 1980s. After working as an election agent for the party, he was elected to the Watford District Council in 1986 and continued in that capacity for the next eight years, becoming by 1994 the leader of the six strong SDP group on the council.
Naturally it was his ambition to win election to the House of Commons. He failed in his first attempt at Watford in 1992 when he came third with some 10,000 votes, but soon transferred his attentions to the apparently better prospect of the Winchester constituency. Selected as the Liberal Democrat PPC in 1995, at the General Election of 1997 he succeeded in unseating the Conservative incumbent Gerry Malone by a mere two votes. His defeated opponent took the matter to court, and thanks to the questionable treatment of some apparently spoiled votes succeeded in getting the result declared invalid. But when the election was re-run in November 1997 Oaten simply increased his majority to over 20,000. He subsequently succeeded in retaining the seat at both the 2001 (majority of 9,634) and 2005 (majority of 7,476) General Elections.
As a member of parliament he soon earned a reputation as an "original thinker" and established the Liberal Future group and later emerged as one of the leading contributors to The Orange Book in 2004, placing himself very much on the 'economic liberal' wing of the party. Described as a "fluent Commons performer" he soon became one of the rising stars of the party and served successively as the party spokesman for Disabilities and as a member of the Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs and Defence team;
He was Chairman of the Parliamentary Liberal Democrats from 2001 to 2003,
in the 2001-2005 parliament served on the All Party Parliamentary Groups for Humans Rights, EU Accession, and Adoption.
In October 2003 he succeeded Simon Hughes as the Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary and took the opportunity to expound his doctrine of "tough liberalism" where he sought to reconcile the traditional liberal concern for civil liberties with a tougher stance on crime. He was also a strong opponent of the government's proposals for ID cards and much of its anti-terror legislation, particularly the proposal to allow the detention of terrorist suspects for up to ninety days without charge and the intention of making it an offence to 'glorify' terrorism.
During the leadership crisis that beset the party in the Winter of 2005-2006, he was, together with Lembit Opik, one of only two leading Liberal Democrat MPs to consistently support Charles Kennedy. This did not however prevent him from sending an e-mail to party activists outlining his achievements to date, an act which was widely seen as "pressing the green button" on his own bid to replace him. Eventually Kennedy was forced to admit his problems with alcohol and tendered his resignation. Three days later, on the 10th January 2006, Mark Oaten duly announced that he would be a candidate in forthcoming contest to select a new party leader, supporting his candidature with a plea for a "21st century liberalism". But just over a week later, on the 19th January, he announced his withdrawal from the contest, citing his lack of support from the parliamentary party (total one, Lembit Opik) and the pressure of campaigning for the leadership. There were however suggestions that there was another reason for his decision to quit, as one un-named MP was quoted as saying; "The House was rife with rumours something unsavoury was about to come out. He had no choice."
Lib-Dem Oaten's 3-In-Bed-Rent-Boy Shame
The 'unsavoury' nature of these rumours was duly revealed in the News of the World on the 22nd January, namely that since at least the summer of 2004 Mark Oaten had been in the habit of hiring rent boys. After initially making contact via the website Gaydar, he was "a regular punter for six months" and it seems, "loved gay sex and humiliation". These frolics reached their zenith when Mark indulged himself in a three-in-a-bed romp with two other rent boys, at which time he apparently requested that they "humiliate him with a bizarre sex act too revolting to describe". As was later confirmed by Private Eye some form of scatalogical gratification was involved. These games seem to have continued until February 2005 when one of his companions recognised him from the television and addressed him with the words "You're Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat MP." The addressee reportedly went "white with shock", said that "It can't be me, I must have a double. I'm not a politician" before disappearing never to return.
Such revelations have been all the more surprising if only because Mark Oaten had always been regarded as a rather dull figure who had never managed to achieve wide public recognition despite being on the front bench of his party. This presumably explained why it took six months for him to be recognised, and may also explain why it took a further eleven months for the matter to become public knowledge. (Presumably the going rate from the News of the World for outing a prospective candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats was much higher than that of a mere front bench spokesman.)
The story naturally allowed the News of the World to occupy its traditional position on the moral high ground, claiming that it "exposes Oaten as a hypocrite", noting that he was not shy in promoting himself as a "family man", and that it was only last year that Mark felt moved to condemn a judge who was sacked for hiring rent boys. But perhaps the surprising thing of all is that Mark Oaten believed that he could put himself forward as the potential leader of the Liberal Democrats and thus a potential, if somewhat unlikely, candidate for Prime Minister at the next election, without anyone finding out these shenanigans.
Mark Oaten tendered his resignation as the home affairs spokesman for the party citing "errors of judgement in personal behaviour", whilst the 'Oaten effect' was later blamed for the Liberal Democrats losing control of Winchester Council to the Conservative Party in the May 2006 local elections. Later that same month Oaten was interviewed by the Sunday Times, in which he blamed his behaviour on a "mid-life crisis", explaining that "I was turning forty and I really felt that I was losing my youth" and that the "problem was undoubtedly compounded by my dramatic loss of hair in my late thirties". In July he announced that he would not be contesting his Winchester seat at the next General Election, having previously claimed he had been much happier since he was forced to resign his position on the Liberal Democrat front bench. His stated intention was to concentrate on the problems of the developing world.
- Neville Thurlbeck, Lib-Dem Oaten's 3-In-Bed-Rent-Boy Shame
- From the BBC at http://news.bbc.co.uk
Oaten resigns over rent boy claim, 21 January 2006
Profile: Mark Oaten, 21 January 2006
- Biographical information from
- From the Daily Telegraph www.telegraph.co.uk/
Mark Oaten joins race for Lib Dem leadership, 10/01/2006
Mark Oaten to withdraw from Lib Dem leader race, 19/01/2006
- From The Observer
Mark Oaten, Why the time is right for 'tough liberalism' September 19, 2004
- Lib Dem Oaten to stand down as MP, 25 July 2006,
Note: belatedly updated on the 29 July 2007