Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Panic? What panic?

Lib Dem chaos, Scandal-hit Lib Dems in Freefall or:

that the party is facing headlines claiming it is facing its worst crisis for a generation and is collapsing. And that must indeed be the party bosses' greatest fear

The party is apparently:

reel[ing] from the resignation of its home affairs spokesman following allegations he had an affair with a rent boy

Let's look at this sensibly... The Telegraph says:

A Guardian/ICM poll, mostly conducted before the story broke on Saturday evening, puts the party on 19 per cent - two down on the previous month. The Tories, on 37 per cent, maintained their one-point lead on Labour. A Mori poll in Saturday's Sun had the Lib Dems on 15 per cent, their lowest rating for five years.

In 2001, the Lib Dems were expected to be happy with a gain of 2% to 16% so it just shows how we shouldn't "consider giving up" if dropping to 15% is the party "facing its worst crisis for a generation". Further, the Lib Dem's poll rating always drops after a general election (can anyone find me any stats) and after the Conservatives elect a new leader. So we're actually holding up very well and our credibility is just fine thank you very much.

And why would our credibility have taken a knock? Well, first we had the unexpected "Politician revealed to have been an alcoholic" shocker. And now we have the even more crisis-ladened "Man revealed to have used a prostitute and (possibly) lied to wife"... Around 10% of the male population admit to having used a prostitute and 99.999% of the married male population have probably omitted to tell their wife something. Anyone have a percentage for the number of men who have had an affair? Nothing like being a man of the people, eh. It's not even like he had an affair with another woman - he was getting something his wife couldn't give him. I'd be more scared if we had 600+ people in parliament who never did anything silly and had nothing the tabloid press could get hold of. It's not even like the Lib Dems are dead against prostitution. IMO he shouldn't have resigned in the first place (in fact, it's worse for a liberal party that he did) and he certainly shouldn't step down as an MP. As the Telegraph says:

He has done nothing illegal - just embarrassing. He hasn't lied: no one has ever thought to ask him if he liked rent boys. He hasn't been hypocritical. He coined the term "Tough Liberalism", but he never called for a crack-down on prostitution. Quite the reverse: the Liberal Democrats want to liberalise the sex trade. Only last week, Mr Oaten, as home affairs spokesman, was saying: "We support the piloting of managed zones in designated areas in cities." On gays and lesbians his party believes in "a diverse Britain, not one shackled by conformity, ignorance or intolerance". He wants to boost the pink economy, and has done so himself in a rather bizarre way. He hasn't abused his position as an MP to win favours or make money, and his out-of-hours activities haven't impinged on his job as a conscientious constituency MP.

In short - panic? What panic?

[NB: Have put a long comment clarifying my position on Mark Oaten's resignation. I didn't want to create a new post but realised it wasn't clear what I thought after having a debate with LibertyCat on this topic last night on the phone].


  • At 11:26 am , Blogger Simon said...

    I think he did have to resign. He had been made to look foolish by his own actions, and was indulging in high-risk behaviour. He has made the Party into - albeit temporarily - a laughing stock. For him to continue as a frontbench spokesman, especially during debates on prostitution, would have made us look absurd, and him even more laughable. I see no great benefit in hanging on to a liability by way of masochistically proving a point. Two of the qualities a politician needs are credibility and respect. Oaten had lost these.

    Secondly, I very much doubt if the entirety of the story emergeed. Indeed, the New of the World stated that they had withheld the more sordid details. I am not sure how much more sordid it could have been, but if the rumours are true, it really is better for him and his family that he resigned.

  • At 12:01 pm , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    Anything reported about the sex lives of politicians in the UK media makes the person a laughing stock and causes them to lose their credibility. This means that the media can choose which politicians are 'in' and which 'out' (no pun intended) with the caveat that they need to be able to pull together sufficient information to prove it. This is not an ideal situation.

    Given our stance on prostitution (which is not at all hypocritical) then we would only look silly on the front bench because the HofC behaves like a cross between a monkey house and a boarding school. Again, this is something the Lib Dems should not want.

    We should really be taking a stand on both of the above. I want to see a day when a politician's reaction to being confronted with this type of stuff is "So what?"

    [On the sordid issue - provided it's not illegal then it's really no *worse* than the original claim]

  • At 12:02 pm , Blogger Theo Butt Philip said...

    "Lib Dem's poll rating always drops after a general election (can anyone find me any stats)"

    Not true, here are some stats:

  • At 12:22 pm , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    It's worth mentioning that the only 'real' issue over the use of prostitutes, etc. is the blackmail issue. This is generated to some extent by the press witch-hunting. If I were a single politician and I carried out legal but slightly risque acts with a single partner... then they could blackmail me if we broke up given my career would be destroyed if this got to the media. Again, not a great situation... nor very liberal.


    [Taking a uniform 5 month period after each GE]

    June 1987 21%
    October 1987 13%

    April 1992 20%
    August 1992 17%

    April 1997 18%
    June 1997 14%

    ICM-wise this seems to break down in 2001. This could be because our recognition went up before GEs and now our recognitition is constant throughout the election cycle. Or it could be just an anomaly... It certainly works for the preceding election cycles. Either way, this is certainly not the 'biggest crisis in a generation' unless we're talking a generation of gerbils.

  • At 11:54 pm , Blogger Angus J Huck said...

    While we've all been distracted by the travails of Mr Oaten, David Cameron has revealed himself in his true authoritarian colours by coming out in favour of FORCED LABOUR FOR SCHOOL-LEAVERS http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4642334.stm.

    Those of us who value individual freedom and autonomy (ie, "liberals") should be fighting this tooth and nail. We should be telling the school-leavers of tomorrow that they must refuse to join the Cameron Youth. Just as car-owners should refuse to have bugging devices in their cars, and ordindary citizens should refuse to carry their eartag ID cards. Time for a bit of rebellion, I say.

    If we don't watch out, Blair, Cameron, and any other oleaginous pipsqueak the "invisble government" and their media lackeys place at the top of public life, they will turn us into robots. Given half a chance.

  • At 9:41 am , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    After a very vigorous debate with LibertyCat last night (which was sadly truncated at completely the wrong moment because he had to go out)... it became obvious to me why I have the position on politician's sex scandals that I do.

    a) About Mark specifically:

    1. He may have resigned off the front bench for political reasons. He hadn't got much support from MPs in the leadership election and there's no guarantee he'd have been returned to the front bench after a reshuffle
    2. He'd apparently used his family life in his election/leadership material. This suggests you're trying to appeal to 'a particular type of voter' to whom someone's marital arrangements matter. Therefore, pointing out he was mis-selling himself was fair game. If he had an unconventional marital set-up then it's good practice to not rattle on about your family life

    b) The newspaper reports suggest his wife hadn’t consented to his activities which obviously make me have a bad opinion of him. He broke her trust, exposed her to a risk of an STD by having an unfamiliar and promiscuous sexual partner (a prostitute) and has probably caused her embarrassment. He knowingly set out to do something that would hurt his family if discovered. I'm not condoning this.

    c) In general about political sex scandals:

    1. Cheating in marriage is unfortunately pretty common. In isolation it's a breach of trust between guy and his wife NOT between him and the electorate
    2. Prostitution is AFAIK not illegal. Soliciting was original intended as a public-order style offence AFAIK and thus the customer is not offending
    3. Sex scandals do not usually affect the politician's job unless there's blackmail or a security risk
    4.When we allow the media to decide who is in front bench politics based on a moral judgement of their personal arrangements then it goes beyond way beyond affairs. This has been written about very well elsewhere.
    5. People are always going to enjoy reading details of people's sex lives (Heat, etc. thrive on it). It fulfils a human need for gossip and human interest. However, we should take a more mature attitude to how we use this in political discourse and the effect it has on someone's political career. Political opponents behaving like a load of school boys is frequently cited as one of the reasons there are not more women in politics, for example.

    Upon consideration and on balance he probably should have stood off the front bench making it clear he was standing down because of a2) (he’d implicitly suggested part of his appeal was as a ‘family man’ and then he wasn’t). If he was making a big deal of being a family man then it suggests his wife would feel embarrassed/ disgusted by his activities and thus he may also have been well advised to resign to prevent further hurt to his wife.

    However, the response of the next politician with unconventional marital arrangements who has never pretended otherwise to the electorate and who attracts tabloid headlines should be “So what?” If they happen to be required to talk about prostitution and have visited a prostitute then I see no reason why they can’t use that to give a personal note to their portfolio. After all, politicians with personal experience of the issue they are talking about carry more weight.

  • At 11:11 am , Blogger Simon said...

    Hi F-de-R, could you check your Apollo personal message thingy? I have sent you a message - not sure what it is you want me to do re comments. Reply there. SM.


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